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Rheumatoid Arthritis May Hamper Sex

1 in 3 RA Patients Report Considerable Impact on Sexual Activity
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

June 26, 2006 -- Rheumatoid arthritisRheumatoid arthritis substantially diminishes the sex lives of more than three in 10 RA patients, according to a new study.

The study comes from rheumatology experts in Norway, including Ylva Helland, MPhil, BSc, and Tore Kvien, MD. Both work in Norway's capital, Oslo, at Diakonhjemmet hospital.

The researchers studied survey data from 1,041 Oslo RA patients:

  • 78% were women. RA is more common among women than men.
  • Ages ranged from 20 to 91 (average age was 58 years).
  • Average time since RA diagnosis was 13 years.

The survey -- conducted in 2004 -- asked participants about their pain, fatiguefatigue, and disability. Another question gauged the influence of health status on the patients' sexual activity; 830 of the 1,041 survey participants answered that question.

RA and Sex

Most RA patients reported little or no health impact on their sexual activity. However, a sizeable minority -- more than three in ten -- noted at least considerable health-related problems with sex.

Of those answering the sex-and-health question:

  • 31% reported no impact on sexual activity
  • 38% said there was little impact
  • 21% complained of considerable impact
  • 3% said sexual activity was almost impossible
  • 7% said sexual activity was impossible

Relatively few men took the survey, but they were more likely than women to report a big health impact (considerable or more) on sexual activity. Forty percent of men complained of a big impact, compared to nearly 28% of women.

Also, patients with less than 12 years of education were more likely to report a large health impact on sexual activity, compared to those with more education (35% of those with less than 12 years of education, compared to almost 25% of those with more than 12 years).

Fatigue a Factor

The study shows that fatigue and physical limits seemed more important than pain when it came to patients' problems with sexual activity.

"Higher levels of fatigue and functional limitations predicted perceived problems with sexual activity, while pain did not," write the researchers.

They call on health care givers to pay more attention to RA's effects on sexual activity and sexual problems. Because the issue is complex, the researchers encourage health care workers to take a "broad, multidisciplinary approach" to the problem.

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