Postmenopausal women who have hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) - a low level of sexual desire — have a worse health-related quality of life than their counterparts who are happy with their sex lives, according to a new study.

In fact, the researchers say, HSDD can cause in impairments in well-being on par with those seen in chronic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoarthritis and asthma.

HSDD, the "persistent lack of sexual desire causing 'marked stress or interpersonal difficulties,'" is included in the Fourth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which lists and defines mental illnesses widely accepted by the psychiatric establishment.

But questions remain about whether HSDD is a real problem for women or "represents a disorder that has become 'medicalised' because of its pharmaceutical market potential,'" Dr. Andrea K. Biddle of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and colleagues write in Value of Health, a journal published by the International Society for Pharmacoeconomics and Outcomes Research.

One member of Biddle's research team works for Procter & Gamble Pharmaceuticals, Inc., which also funded the research and provided consultation for the survey. Procter & Gamble makes a testosterone patch, Intrinsa, which is approved for treating HSDD in Europe. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel voted against approving Intrinsa in December 2004, citing lack of evidence for its long-term safety.

In the current study, Biddle and her team looked at data for 1,189 women who had gone through natural menopause or surgical menopause, in which their ovaries were removed, to test the impact of HSDD on women's health and well-being. All of the women, who ranged in age from 30 to 70 years, were in a stable relationship for at least 3 months.

Among women who underwent natural menopause, 6.6 percent met the criteria for HSDD, while 12.5 percent of women who had surgical menopause met the criteria.

Women considered to have HSDD were less satisfied with their home life and their emotional and physical relationship with their sexual partner, and were also more likely to be depressed, the researchers found.

They were also about twice as likely to have back pain, fatigue, problems with memory, and depression.

The women with HSDD scored lower on several measures of health-related quality of life including mental health, vitality, social function and bodily pain.

Overall, the researchers conclude that their findings "suggest that HSDD represents a significant and clinically relevant problem."