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6 Things You Need To Know About RA & Menopause

The health changes associated with menopause can pose new challenges for people with RA. Here’s what you can do about it.

Arthritis Today—April 1, 2014

Menopause brings health changes for every woman, including hormone changes that can lead to bone loss and heart disease. But for women who also haverheumatoid arthritis (RA), the health changes that arrive with menopause may be even more complicated.

“We have no clear evidence that menopause positively or negatively affects RA,” says Vivian Bykerk, MD, a rheumatologist at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City.

Ongoing research continues to unravel clues about how menopause could affect you and your RA. Studies in 2012 and 2013 suggest that women with RA may go through early menopause that the age that menopause occurs may affect RA disease activity.
Your bones become brittle and can break more easily.

Normally, the body constantly breaks down and makes new bone. But in menopause, declining estrogen levels cause the body to lose bone faster than the body can make it. This can lead to osteoporosis. If you have RA or use long-term corticosteroids to treat inflammation, you’re already at risk for this bone disease.

“Also, if your RA is [not controlled], and you walk less and have limited mobility, your bones won’t have the stimulus of exercise, and so there is consequent bone loss,” says Dr. Bykerk.  When muscles are challenged by exercise, they pull on the bones they’re attached to, stimulating bone growth.

What you can do:

  • Stay active. Weight-bearing exercises, including brisk walking, helps strengthen and build bone.
  • Get plenty of calcium. Milk, yogurt and other dairy products are rich in calcium, which is crucial for strong bones. Non-dairy calcium sources include leafy green vegetables and canned sardines with bones. Also ask your doctor if a calcium supplement is right for you.
  • Get more vitamin D. Your body needs vitamin D to absorb calcium and build healthy bones.  Vitamin D food sources include fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel and tuna, egg yolks, cheese and fortified milk, juice and cereal products. Your body also makes vitamin D when you spend time in the sun. Finally, ask your doctor if a vitamin D supplement is right for you.

Sleep woes become more common.

Hot flashes, night sweats and insomnia related to menopause can make it tough to get a good night sleep. And too little sleep can exacerbate the pain and fatigue of RA. “Many women in menopause…don’t sleep as well or soundly, so menopause can add to the fatigue already associated with RA,” says Bykerk.

What you can do:

Good control of RA-related inflammation is always important and can help you beat fatigue. “Control of inflammation often improves energy,” says Bykerk. And, try these tips to help improve your sleep hygiene:

  • Do not eat a heavy meal before bed.
  • Do not drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol before bed.
  • Do not watch TV in the bedroom.
  • Keep your bedroom comfortably cool, quiet and dark.

This article originally appeared at arthritistoday.org


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