HRT and early menopause could cause arthritis, large-scale study finds

Detail of a woman holding her hand in pain caused by a carpal tunnel. arthritis HRT
HRT and early menopause can lead to arthritis, a new study has found. (Getty Images)

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and early menopause could both lead to arthritis, a new study has found.

Several other hormonal factors can also increase the chance of getting the condition, researchers said, such as getting hysterectomies, having four or more children, and starting periods after the age of 14.

Women are much more susceptible to rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than men are, as they are around four to five times more likely to develop the autoimmune disease before the age of 50 and twice as likely to do so between the ages of 60 and 70.

The researchers, from Anhui Medical University in China, added that the disease tends to take a greater physical toll on women than it does on men.

The team studied data from 223,526 participants whose health was tracked for an average of 12 years in a bid to see what hormonal and reproductive factors could be contributing to women’s increased struggle with the condition.

During this time, 3,313 (1.5%) of the women studied developed rheumatoid arthritis, and several hormonal and reproductive factors were found to be associated with heightened disease risk.

The results, published in the journal RMD Open, revealed the most influential risk factors were going through menopause before the age of 45 and HRT use, which both led to a 46% heightened risk.

The second most influential was having a hysterectomy which causes a 40% increase, followed by having fewer than 33 reproductive years which causes a 39% increase.

Other risk factors included removal of one or both ovaries (21% increase), having four or more children (18% increase), and starting periods after the age of 14 (17% increase).

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"Some hormonal and reproductive factors were associated with a higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis," lead researcher, Dr Hai- Feng Pan, said.

"Hormonal and reproductive factors should be considered in risk assessment and formulating management plans in female patients with RA. The findings of this study are significant and form a basis on which novel and target-specific intervention measures to curb the risk of rheumatoid arthritis in women may be developed."

According to the NHS, rheumatoid arthritis affects around 400,000 people in the UK, and it can cause pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints.

As it is an autoimmune disease, this means that your immune system attacks the joints which is what can cause the pain and swelling.

RA most commonly begins between the ages of 40 and 50, and women are three times as likely to be affected. Early diagnosis is key to treat the disease and lessen pain.

Additional reporting by SWNS.

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