Infertility increases a woman’s chance of dying early by 10 per cent compared to women who have had children, a study found.
Having fertility problems also raised the chance of getting breast cancer by 43 per cent – and increased the chances of dying from diabetes.
But having children protects women from dying prematurely, research shows, suggesting giving birth has a ‘rejuvenating effect’ on a woman’s body.
Whether having children prolongs or shortens a woman’s life has long been debated.
One school of thought holds that being pregnant and giving birth to a child takes its toll on a woman.
Having children protects women from dying prematurely – suggesting giving birth has a ‘rejuvenating effect’ on a woman’s body (stock photo)
An opposing view is that being infertile may be a sign of underlying health problems, which may worsen overall health.
Now a study of the health records of nearly 80,000 women lends support to the idea that infertility could be ‘a harbinger’ of hormonal problems that increase the chances of dying.
The study included women aged between 55 and 74 whose health conditions were monitored, including their cause of death, between 1992 and 2001.
Women were classed as having fertility problems if they had reported being unable to conceive for one year or greater.
In research to be presented at the Annual Congress of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, researchers presented findings that found female infertility patients had a higher risk of death from hormone related disorders such as breast cancer and diabetes.
During the 13-year study period, 11,006 women – 14.5 per cent of the total – reported infertility.
Most women were alive at the end of the study – and of those who died in each group, the average age of death was 74. But deaths among infertile women were higher.
Overall, infertile women were 10 per cent more likely to have died than fertile women.
The study found that infertility was not linked to higher rates of ovarian cancer, or cancers of the womb.
And even though the incidence of diabetes was similar in fertile and infertile women, infertile women experienced a increased risk of death from endocrine related diseases.
A study of the health records of nearly 80,000 women lends support to the idea that infertility could be ‘a harbinger’ of hormonal problems that increase the chances of dying (stock photo)
That included a 70 per cent higher risk of dying of complications from diabetes and 43 per cent higher risk of dying from breast cancer.
Dr Natalie Stentz, of the University of Pennsylvania and the lead author, said of the study: ‘While associations between infertility and medical disease have been noted in the male population, the relationship between a woman’s fertility and her overall health has not been as robustly examined.’
She said: ‘Reassuringly, a history of infertility was not associated with an increased risk of dying from ovarian cancer or endometrial cancer.’
‘Additionally, infertile women were 70 per cent more likely to die of complications from diabetes than fertile women.
‘The study raises the question of whether it is infertility itself or underlying conditions that predisposes an individual to infertility that drives the increased risk that we noted.
She added: ‘The study highlights the fact that a history of infertility is indeed related to women’s lifelong health and opens potential opportunities for screening or preventative management for infertile women.’
‘One of the things we do know is that having a baby at some point in a woman’s life is protective for health.
‘When you look at studies of women who have never borne children, they are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and several malignancies.
‘There is certainly a rejuvenation hypothesis that just by becoming pregnant a woman may be at lower risk of malignancies and long-term disease.’
Theories of why pregnancy protects a woman’s health include ‘parabiosis’ – the idea that sharing blood with an extremely young organism – a growing foetus – rejuvenates the mother.
Richard J. Paulson, MD, President of ASRM said: ‘This is an intriguing and potentially very important study.
‘More work is clearly needed to help us understand if, in some patients, there might be an underlying medical problem that presents as infertility during the reproductive years and then contributes to endocrine-related disease later in life.
‘We also need to investigate if infertility treatments can counter some of this increased risk.’