Contraceptive Pills May Lower Rheumatoid Arthritis Risk

The rates of rheumatoid arthritis were lower among women who took contraceptive pills compared to those who never used these drugs, a study finds.

However, women treated with hormones during menopause had a 16% higher risk of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) than those who never received such treatment, according to a new study published in the journal Rheumatology.

"Our research shows that the use of contraceptive pills protects against rheumatoid arthritis. We saw that among women who took contraceptive pills, the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis was 19% lower than among those who had never taken this type of drug," says Fatemeh Hadizadeh of the Department of Immunology, Genetics, and Pathology, Uppsala University, the lead author of the study.

Based on data from more than 200,000 women from the U.K. Biobank database, the study found that even after the women stopped taking contraceptive pills, they were at an 11% lower risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Different effects of contraceptive pills and hormone treatment during menopause may be explained by these drugs containing different types of hormones. Moreover, they are not taken in the same doses and are used in different periods of life, which may also impact the risk of developing the condition.

Another possible explanation is the physiological changes occurring after menopause when the ratio between women’s natural hormones changes. Postmenopausal women are at an elevated risk of multiple conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, urinary incontinence, and oral issues.

Women are about three times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis than men, and the onset and progression are correlated with aging and menopause.

However, research findings on the link between menopause and RA are conflicting. Some studies indicate that lower hormone levels during menopause increase inflammatory proteins known to contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. Research has also suggested that the condition worsens in postmenopausal RA patients.

According to a 2012 study, early menopause before age 45 may increase the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis. However, a large 2020 study found no association between rheumatoid arthritis and menopause.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells, causing inflammation in the affected parts.

RA attacks joints, most commonly in hands, wrists, and knees, causing damage to joint tissue. This can lead to chronic pain, lack of balance, and deformity. The condition can also cause problems in the lungs, heart, and eyes.

Symptoms include:

  • Pain, aching, and/or stiffness in more than one joint
  • Tenderness and swelling in more than one joint
  • The same symptoms on both sides of the body
  • Weight loss
  • Fever
  • Fatigue or tiredness, weakness

The study authors hope the findings may lead to better-informed recommendations for women with a heightened risk of RA and play a role in developing new drugs.


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