From the Journals

Sexual issues common for GI patients, but docs often avoid topic



– Sexual dysfunction in patients with gastrointestinal disorders is undermanaged, with a lack of clinician education, time constraints, and embarrassment preventing constructive discussions to improve patient care and quality of life, according to a new survey.

Overall, 71% of gastroenterologists do not ask their patients about sexual dysfunction, the survey finds.

“While patients with gastrointestinal disorders often experience sexual dysfunction, discussions around the matter are not routine in gastroenterological care,” said Marco Romano, MD, from the University of Campania “Luigi Vanvitelli,” Naples, Italy.

Romano presented the survey findings at this year’s United European Gastroenterology Week meeting.

The research shows not only a clear need for better awareness but also a need to build gastroenterologists’ confidence in addressing sexual dysfunction with their patients, Dr. Romano added.

“Most felt that sexual medicine education and improvement of communication skills within the context of their residency training might be important in order to increase the awareness of sexual dysfunction, to overcome barriers, and to improve care and quality of life for their patients,” reported Dr. Romano. “This will lead to prompt diagnosis and treatment of any sexual problems.”

Respectfully asking the patients if their gastrointestinal disorders interfere with their intimate relationships “is often considered a relief to patients who find that the gastrointestinal problem and the sexual dysfunction are interlinked,” he added.

The findings

The survey was needed because the question of whether gastroenterologists inquire about their patients’ sexual issues had never been assessed, Dr. Romano said.

The researchers sent a cross-sectional, anonymous online survey to members of the Italian Society of Gastroenterology and Digestive Endoscopy. The questionnaire, designed and informed by a literature review, consisted of 29 single multiple-choice and open-ended questions.

A total of 426 surveys were returned: 335 from experienced gastroenterologists and 91 from residents (less experienced). Of all respondents, 54.7% were men and 45.3% were women.

Even though most gastroenterologists do not ask their patients about sexual dysfunction, the majority want to learn how to manage the issue, the survey found. Of the survey respondents, 80% agreed that it would be useful for gastroenterologists to attend courses dedicated to the problem of sexual dysfunction.

Only 4% of patients report (initiate a dialogue about) the problem, the survey found. Among women aged 40-50 years, the most common complaint reported was dyspareunia (pain on intercourse). In men, the most frequent complaints reported were in the over-40s age group, with 75% citing erectile dysfunction and 45% reporting loss of libido.

The most common gastrointestinal disorders associated with sexual dysfunction are inflammatory bowel diseases (37% of cases), chronic liver diseases (28%), and irritable bowel syndrome (26%), according to the survey.

On the question of whether medications played a role in patients’ sexual dysfunction, nearly 15% of respondents said that prokinetic agents were involved, and 18% thought proton pump inhibitors affect sexual function. Both drug classes are considered responsible for sexual disturbances.

Few gastroenterologists prescribe phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors (PDE5i), e.g., Viagra, to treat sexual dysfunction, the survey found. Approximately 90% of respondents said that they never prescribed this class of drugs, preferring to refer patients to an andrologist. Of those who did prescribe PDE5i, significantly fewer residents did compared with experienced gastroenterologists (1.1% vs. 8.8%, respectively; P = .01).

Finally, the biggest reasons why gastroenterologists do not discuss sexual dysfunction are lack of knowledge (80%), insufficient experience (58%), time (44%), and embarrassment (30%).


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