Any connection between a man’s infertility and how long he can expect to live is relatively unknown. Just one such study has been conducted in the United States, making it only one of three ever conducted anywhere in the world. The US study, from the Stanford University School of Medicine in California, did identify an increased risk of early death in men who were infertile due to certain conditions but it did not identify how these reproductive issues affect mortality.

Dr. Michael Eisenberg led the Stanford study of 11,935 men between 20 and 50 years old who turned to medical centers to assess their fertility. Data from the American Society for Reproductive Medicine indicates approximately 7.3 million couples in the United States are infertile. In about 40% of these cases, male infertility is the sole cause or it is a contributing factor to the couple’s inability to have a baby.

Eisenberg’s research team evaluated the medical records of the men, who turned to these two medical networks for fertility assessment:

  • Stanford Hospital & Clinics between 1994 and 2011
  • Baylor College of Medicine (Texas) between 1989 and 2009

The researchers identified which factors were implicated in each man’s infertility:

  • Semen quality
  • Semen volume
  • Sperm count
  • Sperm motility (movement)
  • Sperm shape

The research team used two national mortality databases to see which, if any, of these men had died in the years following the study. The average length of follow-up was 8 years:

  • National Death Index
  • Social Security Death Index

These death indices list primary cause of death so the team turned to two additional databases to find any co-existing conditions that contributed to death:

  • Charlson Comorbidity Index
  • Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

The Stanford researchers found that 69 of the original 11,935 men had died during follow-up. Their average age at death was 36.6 years.

In general, the study group exhibited a lower rate of death than men of the same age in the general population. The rate of death in the general population is 176.7 per 11,935 men. The overall lower rate of death in the men seeking infertility evaluation is thought to be influenced by socioeconomic status, as couples of affluence are more likely to seek fertility treatments and be healthier in general than couples of lesser financial means. Certain characteristics of their semen quality indicated a greater risk of early death in spite of household income.

Sperm of abnormal shape did not affect a man’s lifespan but men at most risk had been diagnosed with one or more of the other factors that assess health of semen and sperm. When a man was diagnosed with two or more factors, his risk of death at a “relatively young” age was 2.3 times higher than that of a man with normal semen quality.

The research suggests a link between mortality and infertility but the study did not explore cause and effect.

Source: Eisenberg, Michael L, et al. “Semen quality, infertility and mortality in the USA.” Human Reproduction. European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. May 15, 2014. Web. Jun 10, 2014.