Arthritis is a group of diseases that cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints. Hormones are chemical messengers in your body that control most of your major bodily functions, from complex processes like metabolism and fertility to simple ones like hunger and mood.
Research has shown that hormonal fluctuations can influence the onset and progression of certain types of arthritis, particularly in women. Arthritis can also impact hormonal balance, creating a two-way street of influence that’s not fully understood.
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are the two most common forms of arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where your immune system mistakenly attacks your body's tissues, leading to joint inflammation.
Osteoarthritis is a degenerative condition where your cartilage — the cushioning tissue within joints — breaks down. Both types can be debilitating and can significantly affect your quality of life.
Researchers have found that both types of arthritis may be linked to hormonal changes, particularly those that occur during menstruation and menopause.
Hormonal Changes During Menstruation and Menopause
Menstruation and menopause are marked by significant hormonal changes. Menstruation is a monthly cycle of hormonal fluctuations that regulate the release of an egg from the ovaries and prepare the body for potential pregnancy.
Menopause is the end of menstruation. It usually occurs in middle age, though it can begin as early as your 30s. Women also go through perimenopause, which is a transitional period during which estrogen production decreases before menopause sets in permanently.
These hormonal changes affect your body and mind in just about every way you can imagine, including your mood and energy levels, your bone health, and your heart health. It’s no surprise that they also affect the development and progression of arthritis.
How Menstruation Affects Your Arthritis
Many women find that their arthritis symptoms get worse during menstruation. This is typically found with rheumatoid arthritis, but it can also occur with other forms of arthritis.
The main cause is the fluctuation of hormones, particularly estrogen and progesterone, during the menstrual cycle. Basically, the symptoms you normally have with arthritis — like joint pain, swelling, and stiffness — will get worse before and during your period.
These symptoms can significantly impact your quality of life, affecting your ability to work, exercise, and perform daily activities. If you have especially bad periods, hormone therapy can help make your periods lighter, shorter, and less painful, which may also help with your arthritis symptoms.
Menopause and Arthritis
Just as your arthritis may get worse during your periods, it can also get worse during perimenopause and menopause. Menopause is characterized by a decrease in estrogen and progesterone levels, which can lead to a variety of health issues, including an increased risk of arthritis.
Some research has shown that postmenopausal women are at a higher risk of developing osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis compared to premenopausal women. These findings suggest that estrogen may have a protective effect on the joints, and the decline in estrogen levels during menopause may contribute to the development of arthritis.
Can Hormones Cause Joint Pain?
The link between hormones and joint pain is a topic of ongoing research and debate. It’s clear that hormonal fluctuations can make existing joint pain worse. However, whether hormones can directly cause joint pain is less clear.
There is evidence to suggest that low levels of certain hormones, such as estrogen, can contribute to joint pain. Additionally, hormonal imbalances, such as those that occur during menopause, can also lead to joint pain.
The important takeaway is that it’s not the hormones themselves that are the problem — it’s their levels. Having too much estrogen or too little estrogen is bad. That’s why it’s so important to talk to your healthcare provider about getting your hormones into balance.
Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and Joint Pain
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) can relieve the symptoms of menopause, including hot flashes, night sweats, and vaginal dryness. Whether through a gel, an injection, or a pellet implant, female hormones are introduced back into your body to replace the ones your body no longer makes after menopause.
For many women, the symptoms of menopause can be brutal. Adding increased arthritis pain into the mix is a nightmare. That’s why it’s so important that you discuss the risks and benefits with your healthcare provider. In most cases, hormone replacement therapy can be hugely beneficial with few, if any, side effects or risks.
This is because hormone replacement therapy is simply replacing the hormones your body naturally produces. It’s not like taking a medication or drug — this is something completely natural.
Coping Strategies for Arthritis
Living with arthritis, especially if it’s being made worse by your menstrual cycle or menopause, can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help you manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
● Regular physical activity, which can help maintain joint mobility and reduce pain
● A balanced diet, which can provide the nutrients necessary for joint health
● Stress management techniques, which can reduce the impact of arthritis on your mental health
There are also many medications, nutritional supplementation and other natural strategies available that can help with your symptoms, including natural pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, steroids, and more. However, it's important to discuss these options with your healthcare provider to determine the best approach.
It’s Possible to Live with Arthritis
Arthritis can be a debilitating condition, but there are fortunately many treatment options available that can help. For most patients, a combination of medication, lifestyle changes, and hormone replacement therapy can help them live their lives to the fullest.
By staying informed and proactive, you can better manage your arthritis symptoms and improve your quality of life.
Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About HRT
It's important to discuss the pros and cons of HRT with your healthcare provider to determine if it’s right for you.
To learn more about testosterone replacement therapy and discuss your options, schedule an appointment today