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It is a miserable enough time for many women, but going through menopause is particularly tough on those with rheumatoid arthritis, researchers warn.

This is because their symptoms get worse faster, leaving them with a battle to do daily tasks such as getting dressed or walking.

Women who had arthritis but had not yet gone through menopause saw a much slower decline in their condition, a study found.

The trigger is believed to be a lack of oestrogen, which they no longer need to produce an egg each month when their childbearing years are over.

Oestrogen is thought to play an important role in maintaining the joints, which in arthritis sufferers become painful, swollen and stiff.

US researchers studied more than 8000 women with rheumatoid arthritis.

They found symptoms were less severe in women who had chosen hormone replacement therapy (HRT) or previously had children.

The lead author, Dr Elizabeth Mollard, of the University of Nebraska Medical Centre, said: "Further study is needed as to why women with rheumatoid arthritis are suffering a greater decline in function after menopause.

"Not only is this decline causing suffering for women, it is costly to individuals and the health-care system."

Women are up to three times more likely to get rheumatoid arthritis than men, with the disease striking at a younger age.

This has led some experts to think female hormones may contribute to the disease, which causes the immune system to attack the cells which line the joints. - Daily Mail