Systematic Review of the Impact of Inflammatory Arthritis on Intimate Relationships and Sexual Function
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Objective: To systematically review evidence of the impact of inflammatory arthritis on, or association of inflammatory arthritis with, intimate relationships and sexual function. Methods: Ovid Medline, Ovid PsycINFO, Ovid Embase, and EBSCO CINAHL databases were searched. Two independent reviewers selected articles, extracted data, and conducted manual searches of reference lists from included studies and previous reviews. The quality of evidence was assessed using standard risk-of-bias tools. Results: Fifty-five eligible studies were reviewed. Of these, 49 (89%) were quantitative, 5 (9.1%) were qualitative, and 1 (1.8%) used a mixed-method design. Few quantitative studies were rated as low risk of bias (n = 7 [14%]), many were rated as moderate (n = 37 [74%]) or high risk (n = 6 [12%]). Quantitative study sample sizes ranged from 10 to 1,272 participants, with a reported age range 32–63 years. Qualitative study sample sizes ranged from 8 to 57 participants, with a reported age range 20–69 years. In studies reporting the Female Sexual Function Index, all inflammatory arthritis groups demonstrated mean scores ≤26.55 (range of mean ± SD scores: 14.2 ± 7.8 to 25.7 ± 4.7), indicating sexual dysfunction. In studies reporting the International Index of Erectile Function, all inflammatory arthritis groups reported mean scores ≤25 (range of mean ± SD scores: 16.0 ± 5.3 to 23.8 ± 7.0), indicating erectile dysfunction. Key qualitative themes were impaired sexual function and compromised intimate relationships; prominent subthemes included inflammatory arthritis–related pain and fatigue, erectile dysfunction, diminished sexual desire, and sexual function fluctuations according to disease activity. Conclusion: Sexual dysfunction appears highly prevalent among men and women with inflammatory arthritis, and increased clinician awareness of this impairment may guide provision of tailored education and support.
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