Women with rheumatoid arthritis are likely to suffer a greater decline in physical function after menopause, researchers say.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder affecting joints, including those in the hands and feet.
The results indicate that menopause has a significant impact on the level and rate of functional decline in women with rheumatoid arthritis and is associated with a worsening progression of the effects of the disease.
"Not only is this decline causing suffering for women, it is costly to both individuals and the healthcare system as a whole," said lead author Elizabeth Mollard, Assistant Professor in the University of Nebraska in the US.
Women experience rheumatoid arthritis at a rate three times greater than men and also have more severe decline and increased disability, yet the sex-based differences in the condition remain poorly understood, the researchers said in a paper published in the journal Rheumatology.
Previous studies have shown that women with rheumatoid arthritis experience shifts in their disease surrounding reproductive and hormonal life events, such as childbirth.
During pregnancy, women have decreased the incidence of rheumatoid arthritis, yet they have an increased incidence of disease development and flare during the post-partum period.
Similarly, women who experience early menopause are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis compared to those who experience normal or late menopause.
Given these connections between hormonal or reproductive life events and rheumatoid arthritis in women, researchers conducted an observational study to investigate the association of menopause with functional status in women with the disease.
After studying 8,189 women with rheumatoid arthritis, they found that pre-menopausal women experienced a slower physical decline than those that were post-menopausal.