If you’re experiencing stiff, painful joints during menopause, you might wonder whether arthritis is to blame. After all, the condition does make an entrance in many women’s lives around this time.
So, is menopause arthritis a thing? Is there a direct link between menopause and arthritis, or is it just a coincidence? We take a look at the evidence.
In this article: 📝
- What is arthritis?
- Can menopause cause arthritis symptoms?
- Does menopausal arthritis go away?
- How is arthritis treated?
- Menopause and arthritis: The last word
What is arthritis?
Arthritis is a condition where your joints become painful and stiff, often making it more difficult for you to move around or do normal daily tasks.
In the US, it affects around 23.5% of women and 18.1% of men.
There are different types of arthritis, but the two types closely associated with menopause are:
The most common type of arthritis–tending to affect adults over 40–osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the protective cartilage at the ends of your bones breaks down.
In an affected joint, the bones can then rub up against each other.
Joints commonly affected are your hips, knees, hands, shoulders, and spine.
Along with pain and stiffness, symptoms of OA can include: swelling, fluid build-up around the joint, grating or cracking sounds, and weakness in your muscles.
Being postmenopausal (where your last period was more than 12 months ago) puts you at a higher risk of OA, but other factors make the condition more likely, too.
These include: being overweight or obese, having a family history of IA, having diabetes, and smoking.
A rarer condition that often kicks in between the ages of 40 and 50, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is three times more likely to affect women than men.
It happens when your immune system mistakenly attacks your joints, causing pain, inflammation, swelling, and eventually the breakdown of cartilage and bone.
Often, people with RA experience “flare-ups,” where their symptoms become worse for a period of time.
RA can also cause inflammation in other parts of the body, such as the heart, lungs, and eyes.
Can menopause cause arthritis symptoms?
Let’s take a closer look at the relationship between menopause and arthritis.
Osteoarthritis and menopause
It’s common for women to develop osteoarthritis after the age of 50, which is also when most women go through menopause. So, is there a link here?
Estrogen levels fall dramatically during perimenopause, and there does appear to be a connection between estrogen and joint health.
But alas, we don’t have evidence that low estrogen actually causes OE.
Likewise, it’s unclear whether raising your estrogen levels through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can help treat OE.
Several studies have looked into this, and while some found that HRT led to a slight improvement in symptoms, others found no improvement at all.
So, estrogen may (or may not) be a factor in why women tend to develop OE around menopause, and estrogen therapy may (or may not) help to treat it. More research is needed here.
Rheumatoid arthritis and menopause
Once again, estrogen may play a role. As women with RA often find their symptoms improve during pregnancy (when estrogen levels are high) and worsen around menopause (when estrogen levels are low), estrogen seems to have a protective effect against the condition.
One 2018 study found that postmenopausal women had a greater risk of “functional decline” (finding normal daily activities more difficult) as a result of RA.
But women who had been pregnant or used HRT in the past (and so had been exposed to estrogen for longer) were not affected so severely.
So can HRT help treat RA symptoms around menopause? In fact, doctors don’t usually recommend it.
That’s because HRT comes with an increased risk of heart disease, and having RA means you’re already at higher risk of this condition.
Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and menopause
The combination of rheumatoid arthritis and menopause can be tough, particularly when their symptoms overlap. Here’s what you might experience:
- More aches and pains. On top of painful joints, menopause can also bring headaches, tender breasts, and tense muscles.
- Fatigue. RA can already leave you feeling tired and drained. Add in menopause-related fatigue, insomnia, and night sweats and you may feel really exhausted.
- Vaginal dryness. Lots of women with RA also have Sjögren’s syndrome—where your immune system attacks moisture-producing glands in your body. This condition and menopause together can leave your vagina feeling dry, leading to pain during sex.
- Depression. Many women with RA experience depression, but menopause can bring its own mental health challenges—from mood swings to anxiety. It can be a lot to cope with.
- Higher risk of osteoporosis. Postmenopausal women are already at a higher risk of osteoporosis, but this risk is doubled if you have RA. It’s important to get your bone density checked early, so you can take action to keep your bones strong.
If you have the combined challenge of rheumatoid arthritis and menopause symptoms, don’t suffer in silence.
Tell your doctor about what you’re going through so they can suggest treatment and lifestyle changes that may ease your discomfort.
Does menopausal arthritis go away?
Unfortunately, arthritis is a long-term condition, and there’s currently no cure for it.
So if you develop arthritis around menopause, you’re most likely in this for the long haul.
But the good news is that there are effective treatments for managing arthritis, relieving pain, and generally making your life easier.
How is arthritis treated?
Here are some of the main treatment options for arthritis:
- Exercise to strengthen your joints and keep them flexible. Ask your healthcare provider about safe, low impact exercises you can try.
- Weight loss, if necessary, to reduce strain on your joints
- Pain relief, including over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, capsaicin cream to apply to your hands or knees, and steroid injections (if other pain relief hasn’t worked)
- Hot or cold packs to ease aches and pains
- Physical therapy
- Mobility devices to help you get around more easily, such as special footwear or walking aids
- Surgery, such as a joint replacement procedure. This can make a big difference to your quality of life if you have severe osteoarthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis treatments
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)*. When your immune system attacks your joints, certain chemicals are released. DMARDs block the effects of these chemicals and help to prevent damage to your cartilage and bones.
- Biological treatments. These include drugs such as etanercept and adalimumab, which are often taken with DMARDs. Given as an injection, they stop specific chemicals in your blood from prompting your immune system to attack your joints.
- Pain relief, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, and steroid injections
- Physical therapy
- Mobility devices
Menopause and arthritis: The last word
If you’re struggling with painful joints during menopause, don’t write it off as just “one of those things.”
Getting a diagnosis for osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis means you can start the treatment you need as soon as possible, and get your life back.
And remember that you’re not alone in your menopause journey: you can always find friendship and support in the Peanut Menopause community.
📚 More on menopause:
Introducing, Peanut Menopause
What Happens During Menopause?
What are the Signs Perimenopause is Ending?
How to Deal With Menopause
When Does Menopause Start?
How Long Does Menopause Last?
Unusual Menopause Symptoms You Might Not Know
Essential Oils for Menopause: What Helps?
Evening Primrose Oil & Menopause: What’s the Story?
What Are The Benefits of Progesterone After Menopause?
Testosterone Pellets for Women: What to Know