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Last fall I was lucky enough to attend the 2015 American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting, where I was happy to see a session entitled “Sexual Issues in Rheumatology: Assessment and Intervention” on the agenda. Although that particular session took place at 7:00am and was very sparsely attended, I was very glad to see such an important quality of life issue being addressed in the first place.

Recently I was happy to discover another important advance on this topic. The European version of ACR, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), just held it’s 2016 meeting in London. At the meeting on June 10th, the results of a study were presented showing that sexual dysfunction is present in more than one third of patients with rheumatoid arthritis who are still sexually active, both men and women.

This particular study determined that RA can affect sexual function in a number of ways. Some men with RA develop erectile dysfunction, possibly because of inflammation in the penile blood vessels. Many women with RA experience problems with arousal, orgasm, and overall sexual satisfaction. The depression and anxiety associated with RA can also have an impact on a patient’s sex drive, as can fatigue and physical pain.

Lead author of the EULAR study, Dr. Pedro Santos-Moreno of the Biomab, Centre for Rheumatiod Arthritis in Bogota, Colombia said in a news release: “Sexuality is an important dimension of an individual’s personality, and sexual problems can have a seriously detrimental impact on a couple’s relationship.” He continued to note that it is “rather surprising that, up until now, very little quality research on sexual disturbances in RA patients has been published in the literature, bearing in mind how common the problems are.”

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I will admit that these study results present a rather discouraging statistic for those of us actually living with RA. More than one third is not a small number! However, it does bring me a lot of hope to see the issue of sexual dysfunction being discussed both at ACR and EULAR. Though we may not talk about it – and unfortunately our doctors don’t ask us about it nearly as often as they should – it’s no secret that many of us living with RA are struggling when it comes to our sex lives. Hopefully opening up this dialogue will lead to more research, additional recognition of the issue, and potential help and solutions in the future.

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