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Is There a Link Between Menopause and Joint Pain?
Menopause can cause a lot of uncomfortable symptoms, but joint pain isn't one of them. Find out what's really behind your aches.
By Kristen Stewart
Medically Reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH
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Most menopausal women face such discomforts as hot flashes and night sweats. But some unlucky ladies also experience joint pain. Could it be just another side effect?
Experts say no. “Osteoarthritis is more common in women, but there is no direct association with menopause,” says Carmen Pichard-Encina, MD, an instructor in orthopedic surgery at Johns Hopkins University and the Good Samaritan Hospital in Baltimore. Adds Karen Kansler, MA, RN, a community-outreach arthritis nurse at the Good Samaritan: “The only commonality is that both usually occur in women over age 50.” Osteoporosis, however, is a different story.
Osteoporosis After Menopause
“Estrogen reduction during menopause very often means bone loss that puts women at risk for osteoporosis — thinning of the bone — which dramatically increases the risk of fracture,” Kansler explains.
In fact, fractures due to osteoporosis affect about half of women over 50. Estrogen levels are partially to blame, but there are other risk factors as well, including family history, taking certain medications, having a calcium/vitamin D deficiency, leading a sedentary lifestyle, or simply aging.
Given that a woman can lose up to 20 percent of her bone-mineral density within five years after menopause, getting a proper diagnosis is essential.
“Osteoporosis can only be assessed by a special machine that non-invasively measures bone loss,” says Dale Perry, MSN, senior nurse practitioner at Women’s Care of Beverly Hills in California. “This assessment should start at menopause unless the woman has been taking long-term steroids or Depo-Provera, which are well known to cause bone loss.”
If it turns out you do have osteoporosis, treatment may include getting more calcium and vitamin D in your diet as well as possibly taking medications called bisphosphonates.
Osteoarthritis After Menopause
Unlike osteoporosis, which is a silent problem, osteoarthritis makes itself known — achy joints can scream with pain. In fact, osteoarthritis is the most common cause of long-term disability in people older than 65.
Affecting all ethnic groups and geographic locations, osteoarthritis results from the loss of cartilage in a joint, which causes the bones to rub together, eventually damaging the joint. Though it can strike any area of the body, the most common spots are the knees, hips, hands, and spine.
So, should you worry? “It’s always a good idea to consult your doctor and get X-rays on painful joints, especially new-onset pain or pain after overuse, falling, or trauma, to confirm if it’s osteoarthritis or some other problem, like an infection or tumor,” Kansler says.
At your doctor’s appointment, be prepared to provide a good history of your own health and that of family members, as well as a list of any allergies, past surgeries, and medications you’re taking. Your physician will probably examine the joint, checking for range of motion and reflexes, and may order X-rays.
If the diagnosis is osteoarthritis, treatment may include physical therapy, anti-inflammatory medication, and possibly also pain medication. If you’re overweight, dieting and low-impact exercise may be recommended, as carrying around extra pounds wears out joints more quickly.
Video: Mayo Clinic Minute: Understanding the link between menopause and sleep apnea
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