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Sex, Aging, and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Is it possible to maintain intimacy and a good sex life through RA and menopause? Yes. Here’s how.

Reducing Fatigue continued...

“If you feel particularly fatigued, you should work with your doctor to make sure your RA is being controlled as best as possible with various medications,” Russell says. “And then you really need to listen to your body. It’s OK to take a nap in the day if you’re tired or need a rest, and you should try to get a good night’s sleep.”

But getting your body moving also helps with sleep. “A regular exercise program should be prescribed for insomnia since it has multiple benefits besides aiding sleep,” Wei says.

“A woman with RA can either work with her doctor or a physical therapist to work out a good exercise program for her, based on her pain areas or deformities,” Russell says. “And of course, weight-bearing exercise is also very important for osteoporosis, which is already a risk for people with RA.” Just don’t work out right before bedtime or it may keep you awake.

Other tips: Wei suggests trying melatonin supplements, which may help with sleep, or talking to your doctor about a mild prescription sedative.

Intimacy and Depression

Depression is about twice as common in people who have rheumatoid arthritis as in people who don’t. It’s not uncommon to feel depressed by RA pain or by not being able to do some things that you used to do.

Menopause can also bring on or increase depression. Some women, with or without RA, find that it takes a toll on their self-image, making them feel old, less attractive sexually, and insecure. Often those feelings pass. But if you’re worried about depression or you're having severe menopause symptoms, you may want to talk to your doctor about antidepressants.

The benefits of antidepressants go beyond relieving sadness and anxiety: They may reduce menopausal symptoms such as hot flashes as well the pain of RA. They are not a substitute for your RA medication, however. And some antidepressants may reduce your libido, so talk to your doctor if this is a concern.

Get Moving to Get Through Menopause

One of the keys to having a healthy sex life during menopause and beyond is taking care of your overall health. Eating well, keeping your RA symptoms under control with medication, and getting enough vitamins and minerals are essential.

So is exercise. Try to walk, do water aerobics, yoga, or some other exercise 30 minutes a day. It will help reduce stress, which can cause your RA to flare up, and keep your joints flexible. It helps prevent weight gain and protect against heart disease and osteoporosis, both increased risks for women with RA and for all women after menopause.

Menopause may be a good time to try yoga, if you haven’t before. It has shown promise in promoting joint health and emotional well-being, as well as reducing hot flashes.

The many benefits of exercise can also enhance self-image -- and that’s good for anyone’s sex life.

Reviewed on January 27, 2011

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