Men who have been diagnosed with infertility have a higher risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes, as well as other general health problems, including alcohol abuse and drug abuse.
A new study analysed records from a large health-insurance database in the US, and included more than 115,000 men with an average age of 33. It included 13,027 men with a diagnosis of infertility, and compared their general health outcomes with those of men without a diagnosis as well as those who had had vasectomies.
The infertile men had higher rates of heart disease and diabetes, even when the results were adjusted for factors such as obesity and smoking. In addition, men with the most severe form of male infertility had the highest risk of renal disease and alcohol abuse.
'It was surprising,' said lead author of the study, Dr Michael Eisenberg of Stanford University School of Medicine. 'These were really young men. The average age was in the 30s.'
Last year the researchers noted a similar connection between poor semen quality and general health problems, including hypertension (see BioNews 784). They are not sure of the reason for the connection, but speculate that it could be due to low testosterone – which has been linked to higher rates of cardiovascular disease – or possibly caused by harmful environmental exposures in the womb, leading to both reproductive and general health problems in later life.
'I think it's important to know that sperm counts and fertility may tell a little more than just about reproductive potential,' said Dr Eisenberg. 'There may be some other aspects that men could be alerted to about overall health.
'If we figure out why this is going on, we can target interventions to lower risks of these diseases.'