At a very elementary level, the rise and fall of the hormones progesterone and estrogen in addition to other hormones are what govern a woman’s menstrual cycle. It is this changing of hormone levels which have an effect on osteoarthritis symptoms.
Estrogen affects pain perception and is thus a natural defense against the pain caused by osteoarthritis. Women have reported a lessening of joint pain and some of the symptoms associated with some types of arthritis when there is a higher concentration of these hormones, namely the postovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. An indication of the role played by estrogen in pain management for women is at its peak during pregnancy, which is thought to help women cope with the pain of giving birth. It is important to note that estrogen is not the sole factor in osteoarthritis and joint pain and not all women report the same changes in symptoms.
Women could experience higher levels of joint pain and other symptoms when estrogen levels are low. Estrogen levels are at their lowest just before and during menstruation which is why osteoarthritis pain is likely to be more severe during this period. That is why menstruating women with osteoarthritis need to be careful and talk to their doctors about adjusting their pain medication accordingly. Preliminary research on the effects of estrogen replacement therapy indicate that estrogen may have therapeutic value when it comes to osteoarthritis and not just the joint pain associated with it. Studies show that the natural decline in the levels of the hormone estrogen as women age, especially after menopause, may also be a contributing factor to the elevated risk of developing osteoarthritis.
More conclusive studies are required to better understand the connection between estrogen and joint pain. Estrogen is an important hormone in osteoarthritis but it could also provide joint pain relief in post-menopausal women. Even so, estrogen replacement therapy (ERT), which doctors sometimes prescribe for menopausal women, needs to be studied further before it is applied to managing osteoarthritis in women. Doctors often recommend a stepped-care approach for osteoarthritis treatment in women. This would begin with weight loss and exercise and move to NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) and/or glucosamine and chondroitin for moderate to severe cases. Patients are also advised to add specific strengthening exercises to their daily workouts and avoid placing stress on their joints for prolonged periods. Talk to your doctor about your osteoarthritis before making any alterations in your diet, exercise, lifestyle or medications.
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