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Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Sex Life

By Camille Noe Pagán
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David Zelman, MD

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can change a lot of things, including your love life. Around half of men and women with RA say they’ve had some trouble in the bedroom, like pain during intercourse and low sex drive.

But an RA diagnosis doesn’t have to mean the end of your sex life. If anything, intimacy should stay high on your priority list. “It can improve the overall quality of your life and help take your mind off of your RA,” says Julia Kim, PhD, a clinical psychologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York.

Here’s what you need to know, plus simple steps that can keep passion alive between you and your partner.

Know What’s Normal

Libido lagging? RA-related pain, stiffness, and exhaustion may be to blame. “RA can feel a lot like having a chronic cold. You just feel lousy, particularly when the disease isn’t controlled with medication,” says Matthew Husa, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “Until you start feeling better, sex might be the last thing on your mind.”

Even if you’re in the mood, pain and stiffness may make certain positions uncomfortable. Some men with RA may have trouble getting an erection. Experts aren’t sure why, but the body chemicals that cause the inflammation in RA may affect blood vessels in the penis.               

The good news? “Treating RA with medication and lifestyle changes, like exercise and a healthy diet, can greatly ease most RA symptoms. And that can alleviate a lot of sexual issues connected to RA,” says Nathan Wei, MD, director of the Arthritis Treatment Center in Frederick, MD.

That’s why it’s key to tell your doctor what’s going on. “If you’re not feeling well or are having a lot of sexual difficulty, that can be a sign that you need to change your treatment plan,” Husa says.

Researchers don’t think RA meds cause sexual side effects. But if you’re concerned yours might be, tell your doctor.

Once you’ve done that, here are four more ways to keep your bond with your partner strong.

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