Is There a Link Between Menopause and Arthritis?

Menopause is one of the biggest changes in a woman’s life. It signals a new era – the golden years of your life – but it can also be overwhelming. Menopause and its symptoms can leave you facing big questions about your health.

One of the biggest concerns about menopause is how it connects to other health concerns. Arthritis, another health condition that tends to appear later in life, is one. And whether you’re already living with arthritis or trying to prepare for the future, it’s important to understand how menopause and arthritis may be linked.

Facing both menopause and arthritis as you age may seem daunting. But, with an understanding of how these two health conditions work together and separately, you’ll be prepared to take charge of your health.

Does Menopause Increase a Woman’s Risk of Developing Arthritis?

The link between menopause and arthritis begins at the heart of the two conditions. Menopause and osteoarthritis (OA) both appear later in life. And both menopause and osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis, may be connected to the hormone estrogen.

Estrogen plays an important role in women’s health. And, when menopause begins, estrogen levels begin to change dramatically. As a woman’s estrogen levels decline while menopause runs its course, there may be a higher risk of developing OA.

According to a 2009 article, medical researchers examined studies conducted on the link between estrogen and arthritis. While there’s some evidence to support a connection between estrogen and joint health, nothing directly pointed to estrogen causing or leading to OA.

Other reviews and studies have made similar findings. As of right now, there is no conclusive or concrete proof that menopause – or estrogen levels – play a role in increasing the risk of developing arthritis. 

However, there may be a more direct link between menopause and another, less common type of arthritis. According to a recent study in the journal Rheumatology, menopause can affect women who are already living with rheumatoid arthritis.

Women who are diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) before beginning menopause are likely to see a bigger decline in their physical function when menopause begins. Essentially, the arrival of menopause can cause a quicker decline and faster progression of RA.

Additionally, some research indicates that early menopause may increase a woman’s risk of developing RA. There seems to be a link between going through menopause early (before age 45)  and the likelihood of being diagnosed with RA.

How Does Menopause Affect Women Who Have Arthritis?

Regardless of the potential connection between menopause and different types of arthritis, one thing is certain. If you’re already living with arthritis before menopause begins, you’ll have to manage both menopause and arthritis simultaneously. 

And when menopause begins, it can affect your arthritis symptoms and treatments. 

Everyday Health reports that the hormone shifts that happen during menopause can leave women struggling to control their symptoms. The most common symptoms of menopause – hot flashes, difficulty sleeping, and fatigue – can cause an increase in arthritis flare-ups. And your medication may become less effective.

The hormone fluctuations of menopause can make arthritis symptoms more difficult to manage. This is particularly the case for RA sufferers, as higher estrogen levels tend to work positively for this specific type of arthritis. 

And in addition to these concerns, having rheumatoid arthritis when menopause occurs can put women at a higher risk for osteoporosis. While many RA medications can increase the risk of osteoporosis, menopause can do the same. And this means the risk almost doubles when both RA and menopause are in play.

If you’re already living with arthritis, it’s important to talk with your doctor about the potential for increased risks, complications, and symptom management when menopause becomes a concern. That’s the best way to be certain of how menopause may affect your health and arthritis.

How to Manage the Symptoms of Both Menopause and Arthritis

Whether you’re currently living with arthritis or are concerned about developing the condition after menopause begins, there’s one important detail to remember. In order to manage your pain and discomfort, you’ll need to treat the symptoms of both menopause and arthritis.

Arthritis of any kind can bring joint pain and inflammation. And menopause brings symptoms like hot flashes, fatigue, and mood swings. Coupled together, the combined symptoms can be confusing, difficult to manage, and emotionally draining.

In order to manage these combined symptoms, you’ll need to stay on top of each condition’s unique symptoms. You may need to adjust your arthritis treatments or medications if your symptoms worsen. You may also need additional therapies, medications, or treatments to manage the symptoms of menopause. 

Hormone therapy, or hormone replacement therapy, is a popular option for treating menopause symptoms. However, while there are benefits to hormone therapy, you’ll want to discuss this with your doctor. Hormone replacement therapy can increase the risk of some cancers and other health concerns, so it’s a decision to be made on an individual basis. 

No matter how you and your doctor decide to manage and treat the symptoms of menopause, arthritis, or both conditions simultaneously, it’s a good idea to have a plan. You and your doctor can address your most pressing symptoms and concerns, and you can choose a treatment option that fits your needs.

Olena Yakobchuk / Shutterstock

Aug 15, 2019