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Genital tract abnormalities and female sexual function impairment in systemic sclerosis.

OBJECTIVE: Our purpose was to determine the involvement of the female genital tract and its functional consequences on menstrual and sexual aspects in systemic sclerosis.

STUDY DESIGN: Sixty women with systemic sclerosis and 23 age- and disease duration-matched women with either rheumatoid arthritis or systemic lupus erythematosus were surveyed with a comprehensive questionnaire addressing problems before and after disease onset. Fourteen systemic sclerosis patients also had gynecologic evaluations.

RESULTS: Vaginal dryness (71%), ulcerations (23%), and dyspareunia (56%) were significantly more frequent in patients with systemic sclerosis after disease onset than before and also in comparison with control subjects. Vaginal tightness and constricted introitus were present in 5 of 60 systemic sclerosis patients. More than half of systemic sclerosis patients reported a decrease in the number (p = 0.04) and intensity (p = 0.02) of orgasms, compared to < 20% of control subjects. The desire and frequency of coitus and the sexual satisfaction index were impaired equally in each group. Skin tightness, reflux-heartburn, and muscle weakness adversely affected sexual relations more in systemic sclerosis than in control subjects. On gynecologic examination 5 of 11 systemic sclerosis patients had small-sized uteri, and 3 of them had early menopause at 29, 38, and 43 years. Seven of 16 (44%) women with systemic sclerosis, compared with 6% of normal women in the United States, attained natural menopause before age 45.

CONCLUSIONS: Although impairment in various indexes of sexual function occurs in a number of autoimmune diseases, decreased orgasmic function appears to be limited to systemic sclerosis. Vaginal involvement and other systemic sclerosis-related systemic symptoms adversely influence sexual relations. Menstrual abnormalities, including early menopause, affect many patients. Genital tract involvement occurs in a substantial proportion. Prospective longitudinal studies are warranted.

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