Women, Sex and Sjogren's Syndrome

Sjogren's syndrome tied to sexual dysfunction in women

(RxWiki News) Sjogren's syndrome — many have never heard of it. This condition with the hard-to-pronounce name (it's "show-grins") is a common autoimmune disease, however, and it may be linked to sexual problems in women.

A new study found that women with primary Sjogren's syndrome may have more trouble with sex than healthy women. The authors of this study urged doctors not to ignore this aspect of caring for women with Sjogren’s syndrome.

Sjogren's syndrome is the second most common autoimmune disease, and women are much more likely to develop this problem than men. The ratio of women to men with the syndrome is 9:1, according to the research team, led by Jolien F. van Nimwegen, a PhD candidate from the University Medical Centre, Groningen, in the Netherlands.

"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," van Nimwegen said in a press release. "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.”

Women who have Sjogren’s syndrome may have some similar symptoms to those who have arthritis. Among these are joint pain, stiffness and fatigue. They also experience dryness of the eyes and mouth

Autoimmune diseases may cause a decreased interest in sex. Women with Sjogren’s syndrome may also have a negative body image.

All of these factors combined can create sexual problems for women with Sjogren’s syndrome, according to van Nimwegen and team.

Van Nimwegen and colleagues asked 46 women with Sjogren’s syndrome to complete surveys about their sexual functioning. Their answers were then compared to surveys from 43 healthy women of the same age.

The survey questions addressed topics like pain during intercourse. Other questions addressed aspects of sexual functioning like vaginal lubrication and the ability to have an orgasm.

Van Nimwegen’s team found that women with Sjogren’s syndrome were much more likely to report pain from sex than healthy women.

Women with Sjogren’s syndrome also said they felt much less sexual desire than healthy women. They also scored lower than healthy women in their ability to become sexually aroused.

Women with Sjogren’s syndrome had more trouble reaching orgasm than healthy women. Many also experienced vaginal dryness.

Van Nimwegen and colleagues found that more than half of women with Sjogren’s syndrome had sexual problems. They were much less likely to have been sexually active than healthy women in the four weeks prior to the survey.

Another significant finding, according to these researchers, was that 67 percent of the women with Sjogren’s syndrome had never discussed their sexual problems with their doctor. These patients said they hadn't brought up the topic because the doctor never raised the issue.

Sex can be tough for patients and doctors to discuss, van Nimwegen and team noted. However, doctors can offer some options to address sexual dysfunction.

For instance, vaginal lubricants may help with vaginal dryness, according to the Indiana University Bloomington Health Center. Also, counseling can help women deal with negative body image issues that could be tied to Sjogren's.

"Sexual dysfunction should not be ignored in patients with Sjogren’s syndrome," van Nimwegen said. "Asking about sexual complaints is important, especially as many patients will not bring the subject up themselves."

This study was published Feb. 4 in the journal Rheumatology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources or conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
February 11, 2015