An exploratory survey of the practice of rheumatology nurses addressing the sexuality of patients with rheumatoid arthritis

Musculoskeletal Care. 2005;3(1):44-53. doi: 10.1002/msc.25.


Background: Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic progressive inflammatory condition primarily affecting the joints. It is characterized by pain, stiffness and fatigue. Research has demonstrated that the symptoms of RA can negatively impact on a patient's sexuality and patients would welcome the opportunity to discuss their sexual needs with a health professional.

Aims: To identify current perceived practice, skills, and knowledge of rheumatology nurses in addressing the sexuality of patients with RA.

Methods: A postal questionnaire was sent to 132 rheumatology nurses identified from the British Health Professionals in Rheumatology Handbook. The questionnaire sought to identify the nurse's role in the assessment and management of RA patients' sexuality.

Results: Seventy six questionnaires were returned (response rate of 57.5%). Sixty nine respondents stated that sexuality should be included within the nursing assessment. The main factors that influenced whether sexuality was discussed was privacy, the level of knowledge and skills and time. Nurses felt that while contraceptive advice for patients treated with cytotoxic drugs was discussed in depth, the patient's sexual relationship was not discussed at all. The majority of respondents (83%) had never received any training in this area and would undergo training if they had the opportunity.

Conclusion: While rheumatology nurses acknowledge the importance of including sexuality in the care management of patients with RA, in practice the impact of the condition on a patient's sexuality is only discussed briefly. Rheumatology nurses have identified the need for further training in this complex area.