Colombian researchers have found that more than one third of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) who are still sexually active have some type of sexual dysfunction. The results were recently presented at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2016) June 8-11 in London, England.
RA affects sexual function in a number of ways. Many men with the disease develop erectile dysfunction, possibly because of inflammation in the penile blood vessels. Women with RA may experience problems with arousal, orgasm, and overall sexual satisfaction.
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect sex in other ways, too. Depression and anxiety associated with RA can interfere with sex drive. Men and women with rheumatoid arthritis may be too tired to have sex, or sex may prove to be physically painful.
“Sexuality is an important dimension of an individual’s personality, and sexual problems can have a seriously detrimental impact on a couple’s relationship,” lead author Dr. Pedro Santos-Moreno of the Biomab, Center for Rheumatoid Arthritis in Bogota, Colombia, said in a news release. “It is therefore rather surprising that up until now, very little quality research on sexual disturbances in RA patients has been published in the literature, bearing in mind how common the problems are.”
Many factors influence sexual disturbances in rheumatoid arthritis. However, the relationship between having a sexual dysfunction and RA disease activity was not statistically significant — the problems themselves do not affect rheumatoid arthritis disease activity. Still, the results showed an association between not being sexually active and the presence of RA disease activity.
Researchers examined a population of 1,298 RA patients (80 percent women, 20 percent men) of whom 40 percent reported no sexual activity. Rheumatoid arthritis patients were tested for three different factors — precipitating, predisposing, and maintenance of sexual disturbance and their relationship with disease activity.
The main factors for sexual disturbance in male and female RA patients, respectively, included: biological or physical causes (17 percent and 3 percent), insecurity in a sexual role (32 percent and 16 percent) and infidelity (33 percent and 6 percent).
The predisposing factors related with sexual disturbance in women and men with RA were related to, respectively: loss of attraction (1.4 percent and 10 percent), anxiety (2 percent and 2 percent), infidelity (13 percent and 7 percent) and image changes (14 percent and 21 percent).
The sexual dysfunction maintenance factors in women and men included depression/anxiety (1.9 and 5 percent), partner’s sexual dysfunction (3 percent and 0.8 percent), infidelity (9 percent and 4 percent), change in the couple’s relationship (9 percent and 19 percent) and biological causes (11 percent and 15 percent).