Menopause represents a time of significant clinical and hormonal change. Given the incompletely understood interrelationship between gonadal hormones and the immune system, it is possible that menopause may affect, or be affected by, the presence of autoimmune disease. Menopause has significant effects on a number of organ systems including the cardiovascular, skeletal, central nervous and genitourinary systems. Premature ovarian failure is related to autoimmune factors in a proportion of cases, but is not generally associated with systemic autoimmune disorders unless secondary to treatment with alkylating agents such as cyclophosphamide. Gonadal hormones have been suggested to relate to both onset and activity in certain autoimmune diseases. For patients with systemic lupus erythematosus, disease activity is lower, and damage accrual higher, in the postmenopausal years, but the mechanisms responsible may relate to age, duration of disease, menopause changes, long-term effects of therapy, or some combination of these factors. Early menopause is a risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis, and post-menopausal status in RA is associated with greater damage and disability. Systemic sclerosis and giant cell arteritis may also be adversely affected by onset of menopause. Importantly, autoimmune disease and menopause may have an additive effect on risk for common comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis.
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