Pursuing a family is an important aspect of some people’s lives; it can become a source of strife and frustration when a couple is struggling to conceive a child. While many factors can be contributors, some inflammatory diseases have been linked to lower fertility rates.
A wide-spanning study published by Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases found that a diagnosis of inflammatory arthritis is linked to dropping male fertility rates. While early diagnosis of the disease is imperative to controlling inflammatory arthritis, this study sought to highlight its effect on male fertility.
Arthritis Patients and the Data
This study isn’t the first time arthritis has been linked to infertility, but it is the first to show how the disease has affected men under 30. Researchers explored further within the Netherlands, interviewing men in various age groups and varying ages-of-diagnosis. Demographics recorded included a completed questionnaire about the patient’s medical history, family planning and fertility outcomes.
The findings for 628 men diagnosed with arthritis over the age of 40 were that their families were “completed,” meaning that they felt that they’d fathered the number of children they desired.
For patients diagnosed under the age of 30, the average ratio of children fathered to children desired was lower. The study concluded that men diagnosed both during and before the height of their reproductive years were far more likely to produce fewer children. Along with this, the same patients diagnosed within or prior to peak reproductive years had more infertility checkups than patients who were diagnosed much later.
Researchers adjusted the data according to potential influencing factors, such as the participants’ educational level, history of cardiovascular disease, their partners’ possible infertility, as well as the current age of the patient. Despite these adjustments, the data still suggested that men diagnosed with the inflammatory variant of arthritis were more likely to be involuntarily childless.
Of male patients asked about how the disease affected them, those diagnosed at a younger age were more likely to identify with the statement that the disease reduced their desire to pursue having children. When the data of voluntarily childless men were compared to the data of involuntarily childless men, those diagnosed prior to or at the height of their reproductive years were still more likely to be childless than those in the remaining age groups.
Additionally, the overall number of children desired by men of all three age groups didn’t differ. On average, most desired similar family sizes.
Is This Conclusive?
In short: no. However, many biological factors suggest that relations between inflammatory diseases and lowered fertility rates could be due to proteins found in the immune system response that lower testicular balance and lessen sperm production. Additionally, researchers suggest that prescription drugs used to treat the symptoms of inflammatory arthritis may play a role. Many of these drugs cause hypogonadism and poor sperm count, which would be a significant factor in lowered fertility.
Another role could be the psychosocial aspect, as couples who’ve had one or both people diagnosed with inflammatory arthritis often voluntarily halt any plans to have a family.