Current research seems to indicate that there is a higher incidence of rheumatoid arthritis in menopausal women because hormones appear play a role in the onset or worsening of the symptoms. In the case of the connection between menopause and arthritis, the culprit is probably the decreases in estrogen levels. Muscle and joint aches are typical symptoms of menopause where the joint inflammation is believed to be due to estrogen deprivation and high serum uric acid levels.
The exact role hormones play in rheumatoid arthritis is unknown but the condition affects three times as many women as men which would seem to indicate that that the link between menopause and arthritis has to do with female biology. When sufferers of arthritis get pregnant, and as a result their estrogen levels go up, many of them experience an improvement in their symptoms. When their estrogen levels return to normal after giving birth, the vast majority of the women experience a resumption of symptoms which may even be worse than before the pregnancy. Menopause is characterized by decreasing estrogen levels and for women with arthritis, going through menopause can increase the intensity of the symptoms. However, the direct link between menopause and arthritis has not yet been determined.
There is a condition called "menopausal arthritis" which affects women who are undergoing estrogen-depleting treatment. This kind of treatment may be given to women who are suffering from breast cancer, for example, as it reduces the likelihood of recurrence of early-stage postmenopausal breast cancer. One side effect is the development of musculoskeletal and joint pain which may be so intense that it leads to a discontinuation of the treatment. Once treatment has been discontinued, the symptoms disappear.
When estrogen production falls, a molecule called CD16 increases. This molecule regulates inflammation and this seems to strengthen the link between menopause and arthritis. However, this would not be the only factor influencing rheumatoid arthritis and so undergoing estrogen replacement therapy is not always sufficient to protect women from its effects.
Osteoporosis has been linked to both menopause and arthritis as well as being connected to the reduced levels of estrogen in the body after menopause. Rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to bone density loss as the inflammation around the joints cause deterioration of the bone. Menopause can also cause muscle mass loss, affecting the muscles that support aching and inflamed joints. As a result, menopause accelerates or worsens the symptoms of arthritis and may be one of the possible causes of rheumatoid arthritis.