A fellow blogger recently wrote about the correlation between chronic pain caused by her Still’s Disease and her monthly visitor… and this really got me thinking. What is the correlation between lady hormones and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) pain? Here are a few things we already know.

  • RA affects three times as many women as it does men
  • Many women begin feeling their first RA symptoms after giving birth

So I started keeping track of my own symptoms and doing some additional online research.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Pain and Lady Hormones

It turns out I DO feel absolutely terrible just before and after aunt flow is in town. I mean most girls I know might get bitchy or some occasional cramps before the painter is in, but I straight up can’t walk or function. It just isn’t right!

And if my personal story isn’t convincing enough,  Medicine.net says the following.

Researchers are finding that the immune system is influenced by signals from the female reproductive hormones. It seems that the levels of hormones, such as estrogen and testosterone, as well as changes in these levels can promote autoimmunity. “Autoimmunity” is a condition whereby the immune system (which normally wards off foreign invaders of the body, such as infections) turns and attacks the body’s own tissues, such as skin, joints, liver, lungs, etc. Autoimmune diseases typically feature inflammation of various tissues of the body.

Autoimmune diseases are also characterized by a disorder of the immune system with the abnormal production of antibodies (autoantibodies) that are directed against the tissues of the body. Examples of autoimmune diseases include not only those that feature inflammation in the joints, such as systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis, but also disease of other organs, such as occurs in Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and juvenile diabetes mellitus.

When women report only having symptoms or having increased symptoms at monthly intervals that coincide with their menstrual periods, many doctors will recommend adjusting or adding medication to reduce inflammation selectively just before and during the period. The rationale for this short-term adjustment is that the immune system may be temporarily more active as women’s hormone levels change during their periods. The additional medication can frequently help to avoid the symptom roller coaster that affects many women with arthritis.

This leads me to question why not one single Rheumatologist, or OBGYN for that matter has ever discussed the correlation between hormones and RA with me? It seems clear that a relationship between the two exists. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and start tracking your monthly friend to see if you find a pattern. I’d love to hear your feedback.

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Comments
  1. Lisa says:

    Thank you for finally confirming what I’ve always felt…that there is a correlation between hormones and RA. After I had my first child at age 30, I developed severe pain and inflammation in my ankles, elbows and hands. It was so bad that lifting a pencil felt like a 10-pound weight! I was diagnosed with RA using a blood test. Each time I got pregnant, my systems vanished yet after giving birth they would return but not as severe as the first onset. After my fourth child was born, my symptoms were minimal and eventual went away. It was not until about 4 months ago, at age 47, that I started having pain and swelling in my left knee. I though I had an injury. I was just told today after reviewing my MRI that I have no tears but have arthritis. I’m going through pre-menopause and hormone levels are all out of whack…thus the hormones and RA again! I’m going to bring it up with my female doctor this time and see what she has to say.

    • katiestew says:

      Hi Lisa, Thanks for confirming that I’m not crazy! It’s good to hear that I’m not alone on this theory (although I’m sorry for all of the pain you’re experiencing). How much time passed between having your fourth child and turning 47?

    • Meera says:

      I’ve had simailar symptoms, yes it does go crazy during pre menopause, but the light at the end of the tunnel is it vanishes almost totally after menopause. So good luck.

  2. Meera says:

    Six weeks after the delivery of my first child I got severe shooting pains all over my body and joints. I was diagonised with RA. I became pregnant with my second child five months after that and the symptoms vanished. It returned again six weeks after my second delivery. It was severe and I became bed ridden and on wheel chair for two years. After that it went into remission for two years, then it came back and has been horrible for the last fourteen years. It gets worse during the first fifteen days after the periods up to the day of ovulation. Its distinct and both my gynac and rheumatoligist agree there is some connection but not enough study has been done on it and no data available about it.

    • katiestew says:

      Wow, so interesting and traumatizing for you! Thank you for sharing your story. I hope that we can influence the community to pay more attention to this connection and continue to study the relationship between hormones and flares. Stay well 🙂

  3. Kristen Leopold says:

    I am so glad I stumbled upon this. I have been struggling with finding what is wrong with me and recent research has pointed to some sort of connective tissue disease. It worsens every month just at the beginning of my period. Some months I physically can not get out of bed. It’s so frustrating to not know what is wrong with you and to have your doctor look at you like you’re crazy.

    • katiestew says:

      Ugh, I couldn’t agree more. I hope you find a new doctor that can get to the bottom of your case. Sometimes the worst part is pinpointing a diagnoses. Once that happens, they will hopefully find a way to treat whatever’s happening inside of you. I’m wishing you all the best and reconfirming that you’re NOT crazy!! xx

  4. Susana says:

    Recent research at the Mayo Clinic has pointed towards this relationship: arthritis and oestrogen, but their findings are not conclusive and they are investigating this probability further.

    So stay calm and wait for further studies around this correlation.

  5. Hi Katie, I have had RA since I was 2 years old (now 32) and have always wondered, what in the world has caused this and why did I go into remission right at menarche, only to have it back a few years later, then remission again during pregnancy, and then BAM, worse than ever after I stopped breastfeeding? I heard a story of a little girl that was diagnosed right after birth, and at that moment, I thought, I wonder if it has something to do with the mother’s hormones during pregnancy, and, ultimately, with our own. I am so happy to have found this thread and hope that we can discover more about this common link through research. 🙂

  6. Holly says:

    Here’s something interesting I learned today:

    My optometrist has RA too. It’s one of the things we talk about at my annul visits – our symptoms, doctor stories, etc. Last year shortly before I saw her, she found out that she has a tumor in her pituitary gland. It’s small and benign, but causes her body to think it’s preggers. She has no physical symptoms of pregnancy, just slight elevations in pregnancy hormones – especially prolactin. I saw her today and guess what? She’s been in remission since I saw her last year. No meds, no RA symptoms and while she still has a positive rheumatoid factor, all her other tests for active RA are normal. Completely normal. I am of course, ecstatic for her. But what does this mean for the rest of us, if anything?

    I’ve read that a lot of women have a lessening of disease activity with pregnancy, but why? And how can I get some of that? Unfortunately, my RA went full blown with approaching menopause. Trying to trick my body into thinking it’s pregnant is probably out of my reach, but is anyone doing research on this? I’ve found a couple of studies, but it seems like there are a lot of conflicting opinions out there.

    Very interesting stuff, for sure.

    • katiestew says:

      Wow Holly, this is incredibly interesting! I’ve definitely heard of the connection (and felt the rath) between female hormones and RA, but I don’t think enough research is being done for anyone to do anything with the connection. And I’ve never had a doctor bring it up to me before, nor ask me if my pains change with my cycle. How cool for you to have someone in the medical field to talk to about the topic. Does your optometrist have further insight to share? I know there’s something more out there and I’m dying to learn about it and how it can be used to provide relief. I’ll keep you posted as I do more digging.

  7. musefulness says:

    I just happened to find your post because I’m on day 3 of my period and my RA has been in a super-depressing flair since right before I started. Ugh. I’m just flabbergasted as to why my doctor hasn’t talked to me about it and why they’re not testing my hormone levels…

  8. Tamara Blanford says:

    I have been noticing for the last year that in the week or so before my period I have cysts that pop up & are very painful. More recently I’ve been plagued with severe swelling, stiffness & indescribable pain in random joints. Then, 3 days into my cycle the symptoms start receding & go away. I asked my doctor if there was a connection & he looked at me like I had 2 heads.

  9. ronnie says:

    I have RA since Ive had my first child 14yrs ago and I made the connection between very bad arthritis flares up a few days before my periods. I am considering the mirena coil would that help I wonder?

    • katiestew says:

      I’m not sure, but I think it’s worth a shot! Speaking of shots, I’m trying depo provera for the first time this week. I’ve heard that a little extra dose of hormones can help. Good luck and keep me posted!

  10. KRYPTO says:

    I have RA for 7 years. Not doing so well now. I am 55 and have been trying to do rhythmic cycling with biodentical hormones, however I got hormone pellets again in (tried them off and on) July and I am worse. I also was taking hydrocortisone and quit so that is part of it. Seems like I may be getting too much promethium or estradiol or both. Always trying to figure it out.

    • katiestew says:

      Sorry to hear you’re not feeling well. I am unfortunately in the same boat right now… To be honest, I’ve never tried hormone therapy. What are the pros/cons? Have you tried any of the biologics?

  11. Rainmama says:

    Just wanted to add my thoughts on hormone levels and RA. I’ve been on bio-identical hormone pellets for the last three years. Within 3 days of the first treatment my RA was non-existent. As if I had never had a diagnosis of RA. Some of the particulars in my case are as follows…I was diagnosed with RA 10 years ago at the age of 40. I’ve never had a hysterectomy. I have two children. Shortly after the birth of my children I began to experience the pain. It was roughly 18 months before I found a doctor who confirmed my RA. I’ve tried every conventional RA treatment available. Enbrel, prednisone, methotrexate, etc. Mobic every day for inflammation along with a low dose anti depressant and Provigil for energy. I received bio-identical testosterone pellets and progesterone via sublingual tabs. No estrogen. My estrogen levels were extremely high and my testosterone levels were zero before any hormone treatment. As long as I maintain a balance that works for me I am pain free and feel better than I have in years. I am tested prior to each treatment to ascertain levels so that I don’t overdo. I would say that each individual requires their own personalized treatment plan, but this has worked for me and I will never be able to return to what my life was like prior to BHRT. Just wanted to get that out there to confirm your suspicions regarding the hormone/RA connection. For me the connection is very real, especially when it’s time for my pellet, which comes around every 12-14 weeks.

  12. Melissa p says:

    Not to change the subject but can anyone provide an average monthly cost to be on BIHT. Seems like it might be worth investigating.

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