People living with inflammatory arthritis are more likely to experience higher levels of sexual dysfunction in their intimate relationships, new research led by Curtin University has found.
The study’s lead author, Professor Andrew Briggs of the university’s School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science, said arthritis already affected one in six people in Australia, around 5.1 million people, and he predicts this will rise to 5.4 million people by 2030.
The research, published in the journal <itals>Arthritis Care and Research<itals>, analysed 55 published research studies across Europe, North America, Asia and Africa to better understand the impact of inflammatory arthritis on both men’s and women’s intimate relationships.
“Inflammatory arthritis conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, can cause significant pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, as well as other symptoms like fatigue which make daily activities and work very challenging,” Professor Briggs said.
“Our recent review identified that the conditions can also impact on sexual function and intimate relationships, potentially leading to dissatisfied partners, relationship issues and family breakdown.
“Our research found that people with inflammatory arthritis were more likely to experience pain and mobility restrictions during sexual intercourse, as well as psychological impacts such as reduced self-esteem, poor body image perception, and lowered mood, which in turn impacted sexual function.
“For men with inflammatory arthritis, erectile dysfunction was the most significant impact, which led to additional frustration, shock, stress and a sense of emasculation. Negative body image, reduced desire for intercourse and erectile dysfunction all contributed to an altered sense of sexuality across both genders.”
Professor Briggs said the research suggested that partners who had a greater understanding of the disease were more likely to try to strengthen the relationship, while those with no understanding created additional fear and tension in the relationship.
Professor Briggs said the findings may be of interest to healthcare professionals (such as pharmacists) who are likely to work with patients dealing with inflammatory arthritis.
“Given the sensitive nature of the topic, it might be useful to ensure topics such as sexual health and relationships are components of the management of inflammatory arthritis,” he said.
The research paper is titled ‘A systematic review of the impact of inflammatory arthritis on intimate relationships and sexual function’.