Men’s Health 101: Infertility as Disease

Name a disease that’s about half as common as diabetes, affects both sexes and is running rampant in developed countries? Obesity? Good try. How about infertility? Ah, but is infertility really a “disease” you ask? You thought it was something that happens to a minority of otherwise healthy people, right? Well guess again.

What is Disease?

Hate to get too serious but let’s start with some Old French. The word “disease” was first coined in the 14th century from the two words “dis” (not) and “aise” (well). It is defined as a condition causing deviation from the normal structure or function of any part, organ, or system of the body. That wasn’t too bad was it?
What really impresses me is that infertility was only recently put on the list of human diseases. That’s right, only in the last several years have 2 major academic bodies, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Society of Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), deigned to call infertility what it rightly is…a good old fashioned, run-of-the-mill disease like any other.

Teaching Again, Naturally

To celebrate this new designation, and to pursue the true depth of its meaning, I am excited to have proposed and be chairing a postgraduate course at our annual national fertility meetings this week entitled: “The Significance, Implications and Heritability of Male Infertility as a Disease.” I get it. Now I want the world to get it too.
Here is how male infertility acts like a disease:

  • Male infertility is related to environmental exposures (recall the link between smoking and lung cancer)
  • Male infertility can have genetic or congenital origins (just like cystic fibrosis or hemophilia)
  • Male infertility can be the symptom of another medical disorder (like the typical fever curves seen with malaria)
  • Male infertility can have impressive effects on quality of life (just like any cancer)
  • Men with infertility and abnormal semen analyses as a whole are not as healthy as fertile men (think of how obesity affects health)
  • Male infertilty puts men at risk of other conditions with age, including testis cancer and prostate cancer (just like high blood pressure leads to heart attacks)

Sounds like a real disease to me! I have a great, international faculty, whom have helped define this field, to help convey these points and more to an audience of doctors and other care providers.
Now is the time. Time to broaden the view of male infertility as a “window” into men’s health. Time to understand that sexual well being is part and parcel of overall health. Time to act on the fact that earlier infertility in men puts men at medical risk in the future. Time to identify those much needed “biomarkers” in young men that will identify health risks as they age. In the words of Earl Nightengale: “You are, at this moment, standing right in the middle of…acres of diamonds.”