New research addresses taboos around the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on patients' sex lives

New research, presented today at the 7th EULAR annual congress, reveals one third of rheumatoid arthritis patients feel their condition has 'considerably' negative influence on their sexual activity.

Around a third of patients (31%) reported no impact on sexual activity, with an additional 38% reporting only 'little' impact. In contrast, 21% reported their condition as having a considerable impact on their sexuality, with one in 10 reporting their rheumatoid arthritis made sexual activity either almost or totally impossible.

Compared to the female patients, men were more likely to report large impact of health status on sexual activity (27.8%, 40.0%, p= 0.001) , with patients with less than 12 years of education more likely to report large impact, compared to those with more than 12 years education (35.4%, 24.6%, p= 0,001).

Surprisingly, whilst joint pain associated with the disease was not reported as playing a significant factor, higher levels of fatigue (tiredness) and functional limitation predicted perceived problems with sexual activity.

The study aimed to examine the prevalence of self-reported problems with sexual activity in patients with RA, and associations to demographic and disease related variables. 1041 patients (mean (SD) age 61.7 (15.0) years, mean (SD) disease duration 14.08 (10.9) years, female 78%) responded to a postal questionnaire in 2004 comprising several health status measures. Out of the 1041 respondents, 830 patients answered question 15 in the Health Utility Questionnaire 15D, which addressed the perceived level of problems with sexual activity. Pain and fatigue visual analogue scale (VAS, 100 mm), Arthritis Impact Measurement Scale (AIMS2) and Health Assessment Questionnaire (HAQ, range 0-3) were included as disease related variables. The 5 response groups were dichotomised into "no/little impact" on sexual activity or "large impact" (considerable impact/almost impossible/impossible to have sexual activity).

"Today's findings indicate the need for increased attention on effect of rheumatoid arthritis on sexual activity as well as reveal that sexual problems should be addressed as part of the general health care given to RA patients," explained Ylva Helland, department of Rheumatology, Diakonhjemmet Hospital, Oslo, Norway. "The complexity of the issue requires a broad and multi-disciplinary approach by health personnel to ensure patients are not limited in their ability to have sex".

Rheumatoid arthritis has a wide ranging impact on patients' health, causing multiple medical, physical and psychological problems, all of which have the potential to impair patients' ability to conduct everyday tasks that others take for granted. In this light, whilst it would seem logical that considerable prevalence of sexual problems exist amongst rheumatoid arthritis patients, research in the area of sexuality has been limited.

The subject of sexuality and RA also features within a separate EULAR speaker session, which amongst other things focuses on the approaches that healthcare professionals can take when discussing sexuality with RA patients, peer group liaison to prompt discussions around improving / continuing patient sex lives with RA, as well as examples of different sexual positions to prevent joint pain and damage.

"Sexuality and arthritis is still very much a taboo subject patients aren't sure who to speak to about worries with regards to RA and their sex lives and healthcare professionals seldom discuss the issue with their patients" explained C. Ziegler, project manager of the Danish Rheumatism Association. "Forums such as the EULAR congress provide a platform for discussion and debate, enabling patients and healthcare professionals to benefit from shared learning and experience" she continued.

Ylva Helland, a nurse and a research fellow, received one of the 12 abstract awards at this congress.

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For further information on these studies, or to request an interview with the study leads, please do not hesitate to contact the EULAR congress press office on:

Email: eularpressoffice@uk.cohnwolfe.com

Jim Baxter - Onsite tel: +44 (0) 7900 605652
Jo Spadaccino - Onsite tel: +44 (0) 7773 271930
Mia Gannedahl - Office tel: +44 (0) 20 7331 2325

Abstracts number: OP0134 and SP0090

About EULAR

  • The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) is the organization which represents the patient, health professional and scientific societies of rheumatology of all the European nations.
  • The aims of EULAR are to reduce the burden of rheumatic diseases on the individual and society and to improve the treatment, prevention and rehabilitation of musculoskeletal diseases. To this end, EULAR fosters excellence in education and research in the field of rheumatology. It promotes the translation of research advances into daily care and fights for the recognition of the needs of people with musculoskeletal diseases by the governing bodies in Europe.
  • Diseases of bones and joints, such as rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis cause disability in 4 - 5 % of the adult population and are predicted to rise as people live longer.
  • As new treatments emerge and cellular mechanisms are discovered, the 7th Annual European Congress of Rheumatology in Amsterdam (EULAR 2006) brings together more than 10,000 experts - scientists, clinicians, healthcare workers, pharmaceutical companies and patients - to share their knowledge in a global endeavour to challenge the pain and disability caused by musculo-skeletal disorders.
  • To find out more information about the activities of EULAR, visit: www.eular.org.


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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