Can Menopause Cause Osteoarthritis?

Menopause is the phase of when women are no longer in their reproductive age. Like in puberty, it can lead to lots of changes to your body. Even sometime it causes discomfort symptoms that may interfere with your daily activities. Does it also have an effect in causing osteoarthritis (the most common form of joint disorder called arthritis)?

Understanding menopause in general

The female ovaries play a key role in the reproductive age of a woman. When they decline in performance, this can significantly affect the female fertility. In menopause, they stop working. This means that there is no any egg released for conception.

Menopause is typically associated with the significantly decline of female hormones, particularly such as estrogen and progesterone. These hormones are involved in regulating the menstrual cycles.

The time of when menopause occurs can vary from woman to woman. But in many cases, it occurs gradually at the ages of 45 – 55. In other words, you don’t get it suddenly. There is a phase called perimenopause, the transition phase between reproductive age and menopause.

image_illustration203In perimenopause, some early symptoms can be noticed. These may vary, but the following are some common symptoms:

  1. Changes in menstrual period. This can be noticed clearly in women with regular period. In perimenopause, the menstrual periods become more irregular and start to taper off. Once the absence of menstrual bleeding lasts longer than 12 months, this usually can be a sign of menopause.
  2. Hot flashes, a sudden and intense build-up of body heat. Typically, it affects face, chest, and neck. The exact cause of this symptom is not fully understood yet. But experts theorize that it is linked to several factors. One of them may be due to the decline of some hormones.
  3. The decreasing estrogen in perimenopause may cause other symptoms such as the female genital dryness, mood swings, and night sweats.

On average, most women get their menopause at the age of 50s. However, certain conditions can lead to premature menopause (a condition of when it occurs too early or before the age of 40s). Some of these conditions are:

  1. Surgery (especially a procedure of surgery that removes ovary).
  2. Some treatments for cancer (like chemotherapy).
  3. Infections (like malaria or tuberculosis).
  4. Certain conditions that can lead to enzyme /hormone deficiencies like hypothyroid and Down’s syndrome.

What are the causes of osteoarthritis (OA)?

‘Wear –and-tear’ cartilage (specifically for cartilage called articular cartilage) in the joint is the major reason behind osteoarthritis. When this cartilage is damaged, the ends of bones in the joint are not cushioned, causing them to glide against each other with more friction and then over time will cause some of the following symptoms:

  1. Joint pain and stiffness.
  2. Swelling.
  3. Limitation for joint’s range of motion.
  4. Visit this section for other symptoms!

The cartilage in the joint is more likely to gradually wear away as the age. The older you are, the greater your risk of having cartilage that breaks down. In fact, this kind of arthritis is more common in older adults and elderly people.

However in a few cases, the damaged cartilage can occur suddenly. This kind of osteoporosis is usually caused by accident such as an injury in sport activity.

Once it was damaged, some treatment options are available but it can be difficult to be treated /reversed.

Unlike other tissues such as skin and bones, cartilage is not supported by its own blood vessels. In other words, the damaged cartilage doesn’t heal as quickly as other tissues in your body. That’s why it’s important to protect your joint!

The relationship between menopause and osteoarthritis

Although this joint disease is commonly associated with a classic theory ‘wear & tear’ cartilage as the age, but in fact not all elderly people have it.  This suggests that age is not the single risk factor and osteoarthritis may not be purely a mechanical problem.

How about menopause – does it have an effect in increasing the risk of osteoarthritis?

The answer is not clearly yet. But some findings suggest that hormonal changes such as estrogen decline after menopause may have a role. If this does have an effect in increasing the risk, experts believe that it doesn’t work alone.

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