"I wanted to get my arthritis pain under control, I wasn’t thinking about the menopause."

03 August 2021

Living with arthritis is hard at the best of times but when you’re dealing with the menopause too, it can be all the more challenging.  

The menopause is a natural part of ageing that usually happens when you’re between 45 and 55 years old. It’s when your oestrogen levels decline, you stop having periods and can no longer become pregnant naturally.

From hot flushes and irregular periods to mood swings and stiff joints, menopause symptoms are not something to downplay.

They can have a significant impact on day-to-day life and, sometimes, they can even overlap with arthritis symptoms, which can make it even trickier to get a diagnosis.

As well as sharing similar symptoms, the menopause can also make pre-existing arthritis symptoms worse1. For instance, you might find that menopause disrupts your sleep, which can make you feel fatigued and more sensitive to pain.

Another concern is that menopause increases your risk of osteoporosis and heart disease – conditions that you already have a higher risk of if you have inflammatory arthritis.

Thankfully though, with the right treatment and support, it is possible to manage menopause symptoms.

Here, Sarah shares her story about the menopause, as someone with osteoarthritis, fibromyalgia and osteochondritis

Sarah’s story

My name is Sarah and I’m 53. I was diagnosed with osteochondritis, a joint condition affecting the bone and cartilage in my knees at age 12, I was told I would grow out if this - I didn’t.

I had one knee cleaned up and the other a partial knee replacement at 47. I also developed arthritis in my lower back, shoulders, tops of my feet and hands, mainly in my thumbs.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2015. Some years have been easier than others, and you just try to manage the best you can. Along with the physical pain comes the emotional and mental challenges, or as I call it ‘yuk and stuff’.

When did you notice something was changing with your hormones?

I can't say. I never really noticed a huge change, I had been taking the contraceptive pill since I was 18, and since my 40s I had been taking it daily with no gap.

My GP swapped my pill over at 40. I remember around age 48 having a year of on and off night sweats, mood swings and pain. All my blood tests came back fine as far as I remember.

I wanted to get my pain under control, I wasn’t thinking about the menopause.

Did you start to experience any additional arthritis symptoms?

I went to my GP a handful of times as I had been having a few difficult months and every time my bloods were okay. I was then referred to rheumatology, offered counselling and anti-depressants. Also, I was advised to go back on amitriptyline due to my pain and fatigue levels.

The next time I called my surgery, I spoke to a female GP and she said, ‘Has anyone spoken to you about menopause?’ and I said, ‘No, I haven’t thought about it.’

We had a fantastic conversation and she suggested that I start on the HRT pill first, this did nothing and so I went onto the HRT patch. I didn’t know what to expect as I didn’t know if the pain and fatigue were due to my arthritis or something else.

Gradually, I noticed my mood lift, and this helped me to manage my pain better. I decided to come off the contraceptive pill after I had advice from a homeopath who I met at a networking event. I didn’t have a period, only some initial ‘spotting’ on and off and period pain.

I had lost my sex drive and that has come back since being on the HRT patch!

Did you get the support and advice you needed?

Now looking back, I don’t feel I got enough support, or information. Each thing was treated separately, irritable bowel syndrome, pain, mood swings, etc. When I did my own research, all I could find was information about fibromyalgia and not anything about links to the menopause.

I just learnt to get on with life and focused on sorting everyone else out, not always taking time to give myself attention.

What has helped you?

Training in various holistic and alternative therapies and always exercising has been really helpful for me. I didn’t really talk about my health to my family and friends.

I ended up trying therapies from a homeopath as she described how I was feeling. I think she was the first person to suggest that the reasons could be due to lack of oestrogen. Before that, I never thought to bring this up with my GP.

Why do you think it is important to talk about the menopause and arthritis?

It’s important to talk as you are not alone, everyone if different and once you talk, you can take back some control, gain an understanding, and feel empowered to live your life, not to just exist and make do!

What advice would you give to others going through the menopause?

At any age, if you experience mood swings, fatigue, pain in the body, a change in periods, mild hot flushes always look into hormones. Maybe you could benefit from the HRT pill or patch to ensure your levels are correct. These are questions to ask your GP.

Get the support you need