Arthritis impacts around 350 million people worldwide and while inflammatory versions such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis cause serious pain in the joints and other tissues, a new study has found they’re also likely to increase levels of sexual dysfunction.
The study, published in the Arthritis Care and Research Journal by researchers from Curtin University in Australia, analysed 55 published research studies across Europe, America, Asia and Africa to better understand the impact inflammatory arthritis has on the intimate relationships of men and women. Given that arthritis currently affects one in six Australians and is expected to impact 5.4 million people by 2030, it’s an issue impacting many people.
Inflammatory arthritis conditions typically cause significant pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, but are also associated with symptoms including fatigue, making daily activities and work challenging.
“Our recent review identified that they can also impact on sexual function and intimate relationships, potentially leading to dissatisfied partners, relationship issues and family breakdown,” senior-author Andrew Briggs said in a statement. “Our research found that people with inflammatory arthritis were more likely to experience pain and mobility restrictions during sexual intercourse, as well as psychological impacts such as reduced self-esteem, poor body image perception, and lowered mood, which in turn impacted sexual function.”
The study found that for men with inflammatory arthritis, erectile dysfunction was a huge issue. This caused them to feel frustration, shock, stress and a sense of emasculation.
“Negative body image, reduced desire for intercourse and erectile dysfunction all contributed to an altered sense of sexuality across both genders,” Briggs added.
However, the research found partners with a greater understanding of inflammatory arthritis were more likely to try and strengthen the relationship, but partners with little understanding created additional fear and tension in the relationship.
While the study highlighted the impact arthritis can have on sexual relationships, researchers aren’t yet sure whether factors such as age, disease duration or other health-related issues could be linked to reduced sexual function of people living with inflammatory arthritis. Still, they are hopeful the results will help healthcare professionals working with patients with an inflammatory arthritis diagnosis.
“Given the sensitive nature of the topic, it might be useful to ensure topics such as sexual health and relationships are components of the management of inflammatory arthritis,” Briggs said.
It’s not the first study to link arthritis with sexual dysfunction. Research presented at the 2016 European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress showed that sexual dysfunction is present in more than one-third of patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are sexually active.
That study found a lack of libido, painful intercourse, orgasmic dysfunction, premature ejaculation and a non-satisfactory sexual life are some of the biggest difficulties people with rheumatoid arthritis face.
It’s always important to talk to a GP or health professional about ways to ease arthritis pain and possible ways to overcome sexual problems.
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