Primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) is a systemic autoimmune disorder in which the body fights against its own secretary glands like those situated in the mouth, eyes, vagina, etc. Eventually, this leads to dry mouth, dry eyes, vaginal dryness, and painful intercourse along with a few other symptoms including extreme fatigue and arthritis.
Along with the above, they also experience symptoms that are common to all rheumatic diseases, such as pain, stiffness, poor body image, anxiety, lower libido, and treatment-related side effects. The ratio of female to male patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome (pSS) is 9:1, making it the second most common systemic autoimmune disease after rheumatoid arthritis. Jolien F. van Nimwegen and colleagues from the University Medical Centre, Groningen, in the Netherlands, compared sexual functioning and sexual distress in women with pSS to healthy controls.
Women with pSS reported significantly worse scores for levels of desire, arousal, orgasm, lubrication, and pain during intercourse when compared to healthy controls, indicating a higher level of sexual dysfunction in patients with pSS. The research is now available online in the Rheumatology journal.
Reduced sexual function associated with pSS
Women with pSS and healthy controls were compared for sexual functioning and sexual discomfort by Jolien F. van Nimwegen and colleagues from the University Medical Centre, Groningen, in the Netherlands. 46 women with pSS and 43 age-matched healthy controls participated in the study, and each participant answered questions on their sexual function, sexual distress, degree of fatigue, and level of anxiety and despair.
When compared to healthy controls, women with pSS scored significantly lower on measures of desire, arousal, orgasm, lubrication, and discomfort during sexual activity, indicating a higher level of sexual dysfunction in these patients. Sexual function was affected in more patients than controls (56% vs. 27%). In addition, patients with pSS had much less sexual activity in the previous four weeks (76% vs. 93%) and significantly more distress related to sexual function. Lower levels of motivation, mental weariness, depressive symptoms, and relationship dissatisfaction were all linked to lower sexual function, which was also linked to more patient-reported pSS symptoms.
Sexual health of patients with rheumatic diseases is often neglected
The study also revealed that, despite 58% of patients reporting sexual dysfunction, 67% of patients never brought up their sexual concerns with their rheumatologist. The rheumatologist rarely brought it up, which was the most frequent explanation for this.
“The sexual health of patients with rheumatic diseases is often neglected, as both patients and physicians may find it difficult to address sexual complaints, partly because effective treatment options are not yet available,” says Jolien van Nimwegen. “However, by simply acknowledging and discussing these complaints rheumatologists can help patients to cope with their sexual problems.
If necessary, patients can be referred to a gynaecologist or a sexologist. “Sexual dysfunction should not be ignored in patients with pSS. Asking about sexual complaints is important, especially as many patients will not bring the subject up themselves.” Key messages:
- Female pSS patients have impaired sexual functioning and more sexual distress than healthy controls
- Sexual functioning in pSS is influenced by vaginal dryness, pain, fatigue, and depressive symptoms
- Communication about sexual complaints is essential during the management of pSS
Materials provided by Oxford University Press (OUP). Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
J. F. van Nimwegen, S. Arends, G. S. van Zuiden, A. Vissink, F. G. M. Kroese, H. Bootsma. The impact of primary Sjogren’s syndrome on female sexual function. Rheumatology, 2015; DOI: 10.1093/rheumatology/keu522
Oxford University Press (OUP). “Female patients with primary Sjögren’s syndrome more likely to experience sexual dysfunction.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 February 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/02/150204221832.htm>.
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