How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Life
Tips on working and living with RA.
Sex and Intimacy With RA
Rheumatoid arthritis has no shame at invading the bedroom, either. More than
half of people with RA report limitations in their sex life, usually because of
fatigue and pain.
"A lot of men and women have problems being physically intimate when
their RA is active," says Maura Iversen, DPT, assistant professor of
medicine at Harvard Medical School. "It's sort of a silent epidemic among
people with rheumatoid arthritis, because neither they nor their doctors tend
to bring it up."
Besides the physical symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis can create feelings of
depression and low self-esteem -- simply put, not feeling sexy. And disruption
in a couple's sex life can spill over into other areas of their relationship,
Taking pain medicine before likely intimate encounters, or experimenting
with pillows and different sexual positions, can all help make sex more
enjoyable for both partners despite RA, suggests Iversen. Sitz baths and
relaxation exercises prior to intimacy can also help.
Iversen recommends speaking up if RA is hurting your love life. Talk with
your doctor, or the nurse or physical therapist. Health care professionals are
aware of RA's impact on sex, and can offer helpful suggestions
Getting Pregnant With RA and Having Babies
For young women with rheumatoid arthritis, dreams of having a family can be
tinged with anxiety. Midnight feedings, hefting toddlers, running nonstop
errands: motherhood is a physically demanding job. "They're asking, can I
do this?" says Penny Cowan, executive director of the American Chronic Pain
The decision to get pregnant is intensely personal, incorporating a woman's
life goals as well as the realities of her rheumatoid arthritis.
"Rheumatoid arthritis is not a contraindication to pregnancy," says
Zashin. But realism about physical limitations is important. And because some
RA medicines can cause birth defects, any woman considering pregnancy needs to
talk to her rheumatologist.
Safe -- and Unsafe -- RA Medicines During Pregnancy
"Some medicines we use have a washout period ... methotrexate, for
example, needs to be stopped for several months before trying to conceive,"
in both men and women, Zashin tells WebMD.
Other medicines, like prednisone, hydrochloroquine (Plaquenil),
sulfasalazine, and biologic agents like Enbrel and Remicade, are generally
considered safe during pregnancy.
One bright spot: pregnancy often turns out to be an effective treatment for
rheumatoid arthritis. For unclear reasons, most women's RA improves
significantly during pregnancy. Unfortunately, though, symptoms usually return
soon after delivery.
Get Help and Enjoy Your Baby
A variety of assistive devices are available to help new moms handle the
physical stresses of having a new baby on board. Special diaper changing
tables, basins to bathe baby more easily, and slings to avoid straining joints
while carrying the child are only a few.
Always consider your own rest and sanity during baby's first year, adds
Iversen. "When the baby sleeps, you sleep," she suggests. "That's
not the time to jump up and try to catch up on the laundry."
"I get photos from women with RA who tell me, I was scared, but [having
a baby] was the best thing I ever did," says Cowan.