What is arthritis? Arthritis is a disease causing swelling, pain, and stiffness in one or more joints in the body. Symptoms begin from the body's immune system, mistakenly attacking both healthy and unhealthy tissues. It typically causes problems with walking, sitting, standing, and can lead to high levels of fatigue. It is chronic and continuous. However, some people can go into remission periods where they did not have pain or swelling and is usually developed at later stages in life. However, there are exceptions, of course. There are four main types of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, juvenile arthritis, and gout. Rheumatoid arthritis refers to the invitation and swelling in the synovial, a soft lubricating fluid lining the joint that prevents bone from rubbing together during movement. This results in the joint becoming shifted or slightly deformed after swelling goes down, causing connective cartilage to break down. I've repeated episodes of swelling. Osteoarthritis is the wearing away of tissues affecting connected tissues and bone, exposing bare-bone and causing painful grinding and growth of bone fragments, bone spurs, at end of affected joints. Also causing joint stiffness, most common in obese individuals. Juvenile arthritis, which refers to childhood arthritis of any form that is likely to be caused by immune system issues or genetics. Like other forms of this arthritis has no cure and can be lifelong. However, if diagnosed early treatment can improve the child's quality of life and likelihood of remission. Lastly, gout, rapid build-up of too many urate crystals formed in and around the joints. This is caused from the kidneys not being able to process uric acid and substance found in urine and results in enlarge swollen joints and severe pain. What are the common side effects of arthritis besides pain? Living with any form of arthritis or type of chronic pain can cause overwhelming psychological and emotional distress, including anxiety, depression, feeling of loneliness or isolation, trouble sleeping, and body image issues. Let's look at these more closely. Anxiety and depression. Daily pain is often exhausting, which can lead to negative moods and outlook on life, irritability, physical tension, and extreme worry about the disease getting worse. These emotions are common with anxiety and depression and exist in a cycle-related with pain, where negative thoughts can create fear of future pain, leading to isolating oneself, therefore, increasing depression and disability. Trouble sleeping. Chronic pain has no off switch, and this even means when you would like to sleep at night. It is common to suffer from insomnia and fatigue with arthritis pain, which can also cause even higher levels of future pain or depression. Sexual dysfunction. Some forms, especially rheumatoid arthritis, can lead to lowered sex drive, vaginal dryness for females, and erectile dysfunction for males. The relationship between chronic pain and emotions. The emotions that someone may feel in response to life with arthritis to in fact affect how the pain is felt. An example, when episodes of chronic pain begin, people typically slow down their usual physical activity in order to ease the pain. This creates a vicious cycle. Once activity levels go down, even if it helps reduce pain is common to have emotional side effects or feeling lazy, too sensitive, or having depression from not being able to do common daily activities or hobbies as before. Once activity has to return, life for work, parenting, or school pain levels increase because the body is not used to the regular amount of movement or stress, which restarts the cycle of chronic pain. It is key to those living with arthritis make sure that they practice self-care. Take care of that body, mind, spirit, and emotions. Breaking free of the pain cycle is impossible without being able to be emotionally and mentally healthy first. There are a number of treatments available, so let's look at some of these and their potential impacts. Medications. Injected medications, this reduce inflammation and slow down progression of joint damage, allowing the symptoms of pain and stiffness to be more manageable. However, these treatments commonly lower the body's ability to fight infection, leaving users at a higher chance of getting life-threatening illnesses. Or medication such as aspirin, reduce inflammation, relieve pain, and have many varieties over the counter without prescription. Whoever taking these for long periods of time increases risks, including heart and stomach problems, as well as potentially risky interactions with other medications. Oral opiates work extremely well at relieving pain symptoms, however, carry the risk of users becoming addicted or even overdosing on the substance. Opiates also are only available by prescription and are only used in cases of severe arthritis pain. Surgery. Surgeries ranged from complete joint replacement, removal of disease joint sections with partial replacement or removal of inflamed, diseased tissues from rheumatoid arthritis. All options includes a significantly long healing time after surgery as well as risk of infection, limiting range of motion as a result of the procedure and risk the disease returning after surgery. Finally, we have Physical Therapy is can help individuals learn how to perform exercises that relieve pain and improve daily function as well as how to properly use assistive devices like walkers and canes, and even refer patients to treatment options like braces to help support joints, hot and cold presses for pain relief and shoe inserts to relieve stress on joints below the waist. Arthritis and dating. The dating world can be a scary place filled with potential judgment, heartbreak, and anxieties, especially when living with arthritis. It is common for individuals to fear rejection because of their chronic pain. Which can lead to more feelings of depression and anxiety. Negative body image from the chronic pain can also cause issues with having motivation to meet new people on an intimate level. People also struggle with knowing whether or not to tell romantic interests about their condition in fear of rejection by the other person, or simple unfamiliarity with a disease that can cause feeling unsure about the quality of the future relationship. Arthritis, this is a disability that may be hard to notice if someone is not aware of it beforehand. This can mean that people with arthritis may find it hard to reveal that condition to romantic interests. Doing so can be scary in the world of dating for various emotional, mental, and fiscal reasons. Emotional. Emotions may be intense because of their chronic pain, depression, or physical sexual limitations from arthritis. Mental. Having a poor body image or mental state from arthritis pain symptoms can cause individuals to feel insecure about looking for romantic or sexual partners. Some people with arthritis feel that they are not seen as attractive or sexually capable by others that do not know arthritis is about pain and physical limitations can make it hard for some people with arthritis to meet others, since that usually means getting out and moving the body. Situations that can be difficult include leaving the house to go on dates or even to drive, or to sit up in a chair for long period of time. Arthritis and Sex. Although arthritis does not directly cause issues and a person's sex life, direct symptoms from the disease, combined with secondary symptoms, can negatively affect how someone functions sexually and in an intimate relationship. Three main areas of possible impacts include physical, emotional, and relational. Physical impacts. This refers to pain, fatigue, stiffness, vaginal dryness, difficulty reaching orgasm, or erectile dysfunction caused by low levels of penile blood flow can result in poor sexual functioning and overall sexual satisfaction. Emotional impacts such as anxiety, depression, poor body image, internalize negative stereotypes and feeling of embarrassment can cause someone with arthritis not feel good enough for their partner, or to be so emotionally distressed at the individual may not be able to achieve orgasm or function as they normally would prior to the disease. Relational impacts. Poor communication between partners about needs and wants or stress anxiety from partners being worried about hurting their significant others can create tension or frustration couples that cannot figure out how to navigate intimacy or sex with a partner with arthritis. Sex is completely possible for people that live with arthritis. However, some people with arthritis can have issues with erectile dysfunction in men, as well as other difficulties with arousal and reaching orgasm or having decreased sexual sensation for women. Erectile dysfunction in men can happen when swelling of the penis from arthritis pinches blood vessels, limiting blood flow and causing problems getting and keeping erections. Women can have difficulties with the vaginal sensations or arousal, as well as trouble reaching orgasm because of muscle weakness from arthritis. But wait, sex can also help relieve pain symptoms. Yes, it's true sex is known to release the love hormone oxytocin. Also released are endorphins, hormones that act as the body's natural painkiller and stress reliever, all while giving individuals and extra boost of happiness. Sex can also improve sleep, which can help those with additional fatigue to catch up on rest as well as managed stress and pain. Sex is also been proven to boost immune health. In other words, the immune system imbalance that arthritis causes can be managed with a regular, healthy sex life. The gentle range of motion, movements needed for sex can also help improve stiffness and inflammation caused by arthritic joints. Knowing that but sexual activity helps strengthen muscles to further support achy joints, adding to pain management. How can people with arthritis maintain a healthy, happy sex life? There are many ways to have satisfying sexual experiences while living with arthritis. Through learning arthritis friendly sex positions, methods of partner communication, planning ahead and trying out different kinds of partner intimacy, satisfaction is not far behind. Positions, learning new and creative positions to have sex can help partners with arthritis experience less pain and discomfort during intercourse. Specific positions will be discussed in depth shortly. Communication, good communication between partners about physical comfort levels, what they like, dislike sexually and keeping an open mind are key to helping ease partner's worries about another with limitations. Planning, setting a schedule. Yes, a schedule for sex can help the individuals with arthritis plan ahead by taking pain medication, take a soothing warm bath or doing some light exercise before sex. Planning can allow a person to have sex at a specific time of day where they have the least amount of pain as well as doing whatever they can do to soothe symptoms beforehand so they do not cause issues during intimacy. Not to forget, planning sex adds to the anticipation. Different forms of intimacy outside of penetration. Different forms of intimacy. Outside of penetration there are lots of other forms of sex and intimacy to share with a partner, such as oral sex, cuddling and mutual masturbation. Sexual positions. The first partner supports their own body weight on their hands and knees. This can be used when the second partner has hip or knee problems or is unable to move their legs apart. Side position with partners facing each other can be used if either partner has back problems and additional bolsters can be used for support. Both partners stand. The first partner is behind, the second partner uses furniture as comfortable height for support and balance. The first partner kneels and has their upper body supported by furniture. Their knees can be supported by a bolster. This may be helpful when the second partner has hip problems. Bolsters work better than pillows which tend to slide or move. The first partner lies on their back, they may use bolsters for support and the second partner can support their own body weight on elbows and on knees. This can be used when the first partner has hip or knee problems. The first partner supports their own body weight on their hands and knees. This can be used when the second partner has hip or knee problems or is unable to move their legs apart. Arthritis and pregnancy. Women with arthritis are perfectly able to become pregnant. They have no additional risks or concerns, have no lower chances of fertility and should be able to carry a healthy baby to term. However, due to possible medical issues, symptoms of pain or emotional distress may cause pregnancy to be more difficult. Some medications for arthritis can be dangerous to a developing unborn child so it's important to speak with the doctor regarding possible risks with current treatments and if there are alternative treatment options to help lower such risks. A pregnant woman with arthritis may experience high levels of joint soreness, inflammation and fatigue as well as depression or anxiety due to the additional stress on their bodies. Although there are many cases of the symptoms going down in intensity while pregnant, labor and delivery typically go without concern, even in cases where arthritis is in the hips or knees. Vaginal birth is very common in mothers with arthritis and there are several options in labor and delivery positions to help comfort any arthritic pains. Finally, let's look at the myths and misconceptions relating to arthritis. Myth 1, only older people get arthritis. It is actually very common for people under the age of 25 to live with arthritis. In some cases, there's even juvenile arthritis. The most common form of arthritis is in children under the age of 16. Not necessarily, arthritis is a condition that changes through time with how severe its symptoms are. This means that one day someone might feel a little to no pain or discomfort, but the next day they might be in a large amount of pain. In reality, all people with arthritis have different levels of pain tolerance and will have good days and bad days where they might be bedridden. Myth 3, arthritis is caused by cracking or popping joints too often. The cracking or popping noise you hear from joints either intentionally or not are just the air pockets in the joint being released. Believe it or not, this is a good thing. Releasing these air pockets makes it easier for joints to move comfortably. Arthritis is strictly an autoimmune condition so there is no way that your knees cracking or intentionally cracking knuckles is going to cause arthritis. Myth 4, sex can make arthritis pain worse. In reality, exercising and continued use of arthritic joints even through sex helps to keep muscles strong and your joints freely moving. The more arthritic joints move, the less likely there is to be pain.