Some women may experience less frequent and more mild lupus flares after menopause, but menopause is not a cure or the end of lupus symptoms. Women often still experience lupus symptoms after menopause.
Women who use estrogen replacement therapy often times experience mild to moderate lupus flares due to the increased hormone levels. This is because the estrogen (and overall hormonal balance) are key factors to the pathogenesis of lupus, just as they are major contributors to menopausal symptoms.
Menopause and lupus have many similarities, but menopause is not a disease. Both lupus and menopause primarily affect women and are often times misdiagnosed or confused.
Symptoms common to Lupus and Menopause
There are some symptoms that are common both to lupus and menopause. Some of them include:
- Pain or swelling in the joints, similar to arthritis
- Chest pain
- Temperature fluctuations (hot flashes)
- Muscle pain
- Lack of libido
- Hair loss
- Fuzzy thinking
- Vaginal dryness
- Severe fatigue
- Swelling of legs and puffiness of eyes
- Shortness of breath
Understanding the inflammatory response of the immune system in lupus patients and how inflammation during menopause can cause a cascade of other symptoms, will help choose the right treatment for you and find relief.
Hormones, Lupus and Menopause
The similarity between lupus symptoms and symptoms experienced during menopause is striking. Lupus symptoms are more widespread, have a more dynamic cause and don't affect only women. However, many of the inflammatory symptoms of lupus and menopause coincide.
Research shows that hormones and hormonal balance is one of the greatest contributors to lupus symptoms. Because most lupus patients are women (about 90%), and lupus symptoms often flare before menstrual periods and during pregnancy, it is clear that hormones play a role in lupus disease activity. The fluctuating levels of these four hormones are thought to be the cause of lupus symptoms:
When these hormones are imbalanced in lupus patients, just as in menopause, it can cause the entire system to have adverse affects on the body. Swelling, rashes and even fluctuating body temperatures are normal responses to hormonal imbalance.
Excess levels of estrogen is normal for women with lupus. Studies show that in fact women with lupus have much higher levels of estrogen for their entire lives. The role of estrogen in lupus is not absolutely clear but it is known that increased levels of certain forms of estrogen are responsible for causing inflammation, estrogen dominance, and even degenerative disease in lupus patients. For example, estradiol increases the life span of certain immune cells, which may be responsible for the autoimmune attack by the lupus disease.
Research is being done that shows how women or anyone with these hormonal imbalances, including during menopause, can counteract the effects of hormonal imbalance with proper diet and lifestyle changes. It is possible to detoxify troublesome estrogen metabolites and in turn restore hormonal balance. Having your hormones at normal levels will help reduce the amount of lupus flares and lupus and menopausal symptoms.