Sexuality is a critical issue in quality of life for patients with chronic rheumatic diseases. Amye Leong, a motivational speaker, advocate and rheumatology patient, is out to improve the way rheumatology health professionals address this aspect of care. During an hour-long audioconference on April 17, she will discuss the state of chronic disease and sexuality research, give practical communication tips and share her experiences. Perhaps most importantly, she'll be knocking down some long-standing taboos by discussing the topic at all.
According to Leong, research has shown that half of the patients with rheumatoid arthritis experience a loss of sexual interest, and 60% are completely unsatisfied with their sexual quality of life. Rheumatoid arthritis, the most common form of inflammatory arthritis, dramatically limits movement and function as well as causing damage to cartilage and bone. For the 60 million individuals around the world (1% of the population) with this immune system disease, the inflammation causes pain, stiffness, swelling and damage of the joints. Researchers have not explored the sexual health of those who suffer from osteoarthritis, which currently affects some 35,000,000 people --a fast-growing patient cohort in our aging population, though some information can be gleaned from research into other chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancer.
A primary goal of arthritis management is empowering patients to care for themselves, to help them take advantage of resources and make appropriate decisions about their care. "Sexuality is always at the bottom of the priority list," declares Leong, and it needs to be moved up in order to improve quality of life for these patients.
Patients desire information on the subject, but don't know how to approach it with their doctors. While a significant obstacle is simple discomfort discussing a topic loaded with so many layers of social and political taboos, the nature of the disabilities caused by rheumatic disease mean it's especially important to address this topic.
"When patients have issues with mobility, pain and function, research shows there is a concomitant concern about body image, perception of self and portrayal of self to others. The more impacted the individual is by the disease, the greater the impact on their sexuality. They may then experience difficulties with libido, the desire to please, physical function and enjoyment itself," Leong continues.
During the call, Leong will discuss the state of the research, and offer practical communication strategies to participants who want to address this topic with their patients.