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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Early menopause and severity of rheumatoid arthritis in women older than 45 years

Mitra Pikwer1*, Jan-Åke Nilsson1, Ulf Bergström1, Lennart TH Jacobsson12 and Carl Turesson1

Author affiliations

1 Department of Rheumatology, Institution of Clinical Sciences, Inga Marie Nilssons gata 32, 205 02, Malmö, Sweden

2 Deptartment of Rheumatology & Inflammation Research, Institution of Medicin, University of Gothemburg, Guldhedsgatan 10 A, 405 30 Göteborg, Sweden

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Citation and License

Arthritis Research & Therapy 2012, 14:R190  doi:10.1186/ar4021

Published: 17 August 2012

Abstract

Introduction

We aimed to investigate whether recognized hormonal predictors of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) also influence the severity of RA.

Methods

One hundred thirty-four incident RA cases identified by four different local and national registers, who had participated in a community-based health survey between 1991 and 1996, were included. By a retrospective structured review of the medical records, information on the use of disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), erosions on radiographs, rheumatoid factor (RF) status, and disability measured by using the health assessment questionnaire (HAQ) were collected. The variables were added to the SPSS TwoStep Cluster Analysis to reveal natural groupings of RA severity. Known hormonal predictors analyzed were breastfeeding history, history of oral contraceptive (OC) use, and menopausal age.

Results

The mean age at RA diagnosis was 63.4 years; 72% were RF positive, and 28% had received biological treatment. Three clusters were identified, one with severe RA, one with mild/moderate RF-positive RA, and one with mild/moderate RF-negative RA. A significant difference (P = 0.005) was found in the distribution of clusters between patients with a history of early menopause compared with those with menopause after 45 years, with a higher proportion with mild/moderate RF-negative RA in the early-menopause subset. No major difference in severity of the disease was noted depending on OC use or history of breastfeeding.

Conclusions

Early menopause was associated with a milder form of RA. Hormonal changes may influence pathways that are distinct from those leading to severe, progressive disease.