Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when your own immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, which is the lining of the membranes that surround joints. This inflames the synovium, causing painful swelling in the joints, stiffness and joint damage. Other common symptoms of RA include fatigue, weight loss and fever.
In early rheumatoid arthritis, the first joints that may be affected are those of the fingers and toes. Later, the swelling and pain will often spread to the wrists, ankles, elbows knees, shoulders and hips. The ongoing discomfort associated with RA can very often limit a person’s mobility, reduce their quality of life and can even affect libido. Rheumatoid arthritis can also cause symptoms in other parts of the body including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, salivary glands, kidneys, bone marrow, blood vessels and nerve tissue.
Who’s At Risk for Developing Rheumatoid Arthritis?
There are certain factors that can increase your risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. The most significant factor is age, with most cases beginning between the ages of 40 and 60. Women are more likely than men to develop rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking, having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis, being obese and being exposed to asbestos or silica can also increase your risk. Additionally, if you have rheumatoid arthritis, you have an elevated risk of osteoporosis, chronic dry eyes and mouth, infections, carpal tunnel syndrome, lung disease, heart problems and lymphoma.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that cannot be cured. However, it can be managed with painkillers, corticosteroid drugs that reduce inflammation, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, biologic agents and physical therapy to restore flexibility. If these treatments don’t prevent or slow down joint damage, surgery to repair the damaged joints could be necessary.
The Connection Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Low Libido
Rheumatoid arthritis causes pain, stiffness and fatigue. All of these symptoms can be great contributors to a lowered libido. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can decrease the enjoyment of sex itself, but it can also affect foreplay and the simple act of changing positions.
The link between rheumatoid arthritis and low libido is not simply a theory, but rather a scientifically-proven fact. One study of over 1,200 people presented at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress found that about one-third of people with rheumatoid arthritis experience sexual dysfunction. This sexual dysfunction can take the form of low libido, pain during sex, inability to orgasm, premature ejaculation and general sexual dissatisfaction. Rheumatoid arthritis can even cause erectile dysfunction, as the bodily chemicals that cause the rheumatoid inflammation can also affect blood vessels in the penis.
Maintaining Quality of Life With Rheumatoid Arthritis
Although there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, the good news is that you can maintain a good quality of life in spite of this condition. Rheumatoid arthritis and low libido do not necessarily have to go hand-in-hand. The most important thing to do is to treat your condition and its symptoms as much as you can. Take painkillers as well as any other medications your doctor prescribes. Go to physical therapy if you could benefit from it. Lifestyle changes such as low-impact exercise and a healthy diet can also make a difference.
Beyond relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, there are other steps you can take to regain a satisfying sex life. Communicating with your partner is very important, as it is with everything. Make sure your partner knows your lack of interest in sex is due to your rheumatoid arthritis, and not due to relationship issues or a lack of attraction. In the bedroom, it helps to be open to change. The sexual activities and positions you used to enjoy may simply not be feasible for you anymore, especially if your rheumatoid arthritis worsens over time.
Find positions that are the most comfortable for you. You can even try using pillows or rolled-up blankets to support your body during sex. If your stiff joints prevent you from enjoying sex, you can warm them up beforehand with a hot shower or bath, electric blanket, or heating pad. Take pain medications before you plan to have sex, with at least half an hour in between so that the medication has time to take effect. Finally, since the discomfort caused by rheumatoid arthritis tends to peak at certain times of day, you may want to try having sex sometime in the day before your symptoms peak.