So how's your sex life? With rheumatoid arthritis, that question may make
you sigh instead of smile. Fatigue can kill desire. Fear of hip or knee pain
can keep you from trying. Or perhaps emotional pain is holding you back -- you
just don't feel as connected to your lover as you used to or you don't feel
You don't have to suffer through sex -- or without it. Some expert tips can
help. And thanks to aggressive treatment with newer advanced medications, some
sexual issues that used to be common with RA may be a thing of the past.
In the spring of 2006, Dora Burke finished her first triathlon with competitive results. When her ankle started hurting soon afterward, she chalked it up to the tough race. But in little over a month, this normally healthy, active mom in her 30s could barely move. Without warning, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) had rapidly and fiercely attacked nearly every joint in her body.
"The pain went from one body part, to four body parts," Burke says. "Then pretty immediately it went to the point where I couldn't...
"Things are very different now than 15 or 20 years ago because our
treatments are much more effective and we're getting to patients earlier," says
Nathan Wei, MD, clinical director of the Arthritis and Osteoporosis Center of
Maryland. That means that many women may be less severely affected by joint
damage from RA than in the past.
But what if you still have pain, morning stiffness, fatigue, or emotional
issues? Both experts and women with RA say it doesn't mean you can't work
around them. "There are women even with severe rheumatoid arthritis who have
very happy, warm, productive, intimate lives," says psychologist Robert
Phillips, PhD, founder and director of the Center for Coping in Hicksville, NY.
"I tell my patients, 'That means you can too.'"
In fact, sex may actually help relieve rheumatoid arthritis pain, at least
temporarily. After sex, the body releases endorphins, which are natural
painkillers. Their feel-good effects can last up to several hours.
These tips may help you overcome common hurdles to intimacy when you have
Figure Out Why Sex Is Difficult
The first step in getting your sex life back is to find out what
specifically is standing in the way. For women with rheumatoid arthritis,
medication-related vaginal dryness, decreased endurance, or loss of desire may
be to blame.
What to do? Ideally, talk to your rheumatologist. He or she knows the most
about your condition, the medications you are taking, and their possible side
effects. Your rheumatologist can also refer you to the right person to help --
for example, to your gynecologist if the problem is vaginal dryness.