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How rheumatoid arthritis affects your life

WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

Being diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a life-changing experience. Rheumatoid arthritis is most common between the ages of 40 and 70, when people have a lot of living to do. Daily life and future plans suddenly have to include a chronic disease that's as unwelcome as it is unpredictable.

Although rheumatoid arthritis never goes away, with effective treatment, many patients with RA can get their lives back.

Rheumatoid arthritis: An invisible life partner

What are the keys to the good life, despite RA? Experts agree: good medical care by a rheumatology team is essential. People with rheumatoid arthritis also say self-care, realism and resilience can make the difference between living well with RA and simply coping.

Love and marriage with rheumatoid arthritis

In sickness and in health: old vows take on new reality for couples affected by RA. Rheumatoid arthritis creates unavoidable stress in any relationship.

There will be challenges in the relationship because of pain. People with RA, or any chronic pain condition, can feel self-conscious or damaged. They might resist emotional intimacy with their partner, especially during disease flare-ups.

That loss of closeness can take a toll. Surveys show that more than a third of people with RA feel the condition strains their intimate relationships.

Missing out on social activities can mean losing quality time with your partner. Feeling like ‘the sick one’ can build a dynamic of dependence or imbalance in the relationship.

Keeping a relationship strong despite RA

Communication is key to coping with RA's impact in a relationship. Talking to and listening to a partner express needs and concerns can be scary, but it's necessary to help ease the burden of RA on the relationship.

The needs of the partner without RA must be acknowledged, as well. Seeing one's partner in pain is emotionally painful. Men may experience even more stress, from their desire to 'fix' the problem.

Sex and intimacy with RA

Rheumatoid arthritis has no shame at invading the bedroom, either. More than half of people with RA report limitations in their sex life, usually because of fatigue and pain.

A lot of men and women have problems being physically intimate when their RA is active.

Besides the physical symptoms, rheumatoid arthritis can create feelings of depression and low self-esteem, simply put, not feeling sexy. Disruption in a couple's sex life can spill over into other areas of their relationship.

Taking pain medication before likely intimate encounters, or experimenting with pillows and different sexual positions, may help make sex more enjoyable for both partners despite RA. Baths and relaxation exercises prior to intimacy can also help.

Speak up if rheumatoid arthritis is harming your love life. Talk with your doctor, or the nurse or physiotherapist. Health care professionals are aware of RA's impact on sex, and can offer helpful suggestions.

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