KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 10 — It is a known fact that there is an increasing number of Malaysians with various chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.
Many people diagnosed with chronic illnesses (also known as non-communicable diseases or NCDs) often feel great grief and to some, the deep concern over the complications that come with the conditions.
It can turn their entire world upside down.
Apart from physical and emotional challenges, a US study found that 40 per cent of people with chronic illnesses find it overwhelming, difficult and painful to carry on with their sex life.
But, should a diagnosis of chronic illness affect one’s sex life?
According to consultant urologist Professor Dr George Lee Eng Geap, sexual activities are completely possible despite the diagnosis of a chronic illness.
Although many chronic NCDs such as diabetes, cardiovascular conditions and organ failure may be debilitating, Dr Lee said most patients can maintain their regular sex life with adequate control of the disease.
“As most sexual activities are not too strenuous to cause harm, the risk of sudden death is minimal despite suffering from chronic diseases,” he said.
Dr Lee also pointed out that doctors usually conduct several simple assessments of patient exercise tolerance prior to giving them the green light for having sex.
“For example, couples who can tolerate several flights of stairs can usually put up with the stamina required for sex,” he said, adding that there is absolutely no risk of transmission for NCDs as the name implies.
Despite many myths and misconceptions surrounding sex and chronic diseases, Dr Lee clarified that intimacy is well-known to help decrease tensions and boost immunity.
“Many studies have demonstrated couples with active sex life tend to have better disease control,” he added.
He also regretted that many couples have the fear of worsening their chronic condition with regular sexual activities, which often leads to sexual avoidance and diminished self-confidence.
“The impact of chronic diseases on one’s sexual life is even more pronounced among younger couples facing such issues,” he added.
To help couples gain the upper hand on the issue, he advised that open communication of concerns between each other will allow a different approach to physical intimacy when one is diagnosed with a chronic illness.
“Disease awareness and knowledge will also allow the patients to understand how the condition can impact on sex life.
“Additionally, good compliance of the treatment will also allow better disease control and better physical health for sex,” he added.
Which chronic illnesses affect sex life?
According to Dr Lee, the most common NCD that affects sex life is cardiovascular disease.
“The co-morbidities for cardiovascular disease such as dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids), hypertension, diabetes, obesity and smoking tend to cause arthrosclerosis of the vasculature of male genitalia.
“This will in turn result in the narrowing of blood vessels to the penis, causing erectile dysfunction,” he said.
He pointed out that renal impairment and liver cirrhosis are also associated with sexual dysfunction.
“Renal impairment can cause a reduction of erythropoietin and rendering anaemia, which can reduce sexual energy and stamina for the patients.
“On the other hand, liver cirrhosis may also cause excess conversion of female hormones, which will further result in diminished libido,” he added.
Dr Lee said chronic depression, obesity or metabolic syndrome can also cause sexual dysfunction.