Kidney Stones Can Be Real Pain for Postmenopausal Women

Patient Expert

A friend of mine who is well past the menopause transition recently let us know that she wasn't feeling good. She complained about a severe pain in her abdomen, eventually contacting her health care provider. Eventually, the pain went away and she now believes that she passed a kidney stone.

After doing a little research, I learned some that postmenopausal women do have issues with kidney stones. Current estimates are the kidney stones affect between 5-7 percent of U.S. postmenopausal women. And a 2010 study out of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center found that the use of estrogen therapy by postmenopausal women might increase the risk of developing kidney stones by approximately 20 percent.

What Are Kidney Stones?

The Mayo Clinic reports that kidney stones are not linked to one definitive cause. They form when urine contains more crystal -forming substances (uric acid, calcium and oxalate) than the fluid in the urine can dilute. Furthermore, the urine may not have substances that keep crystals from sticking together, thus creating an environment where the stones can easily form.

There are four types of kidney stones. These are:

  • Calcium stones - Most kidney stones are comprised of calcium oxalate, which is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods, including nuts, chocolate and some fruits and vegetables. Furthermore, intestinal bypass surgery, several metabolic disorders, diet and high doses of vitamin D can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate that is in urine.
  • Struvite stones - These types of stones are created when there is an infection. Although they can become quite large in a short period of time, they can also develop with little warning.
  • Systine stones - These types of stones are formed due to a disorder that is inherited. The disorder causes the kidneys to excrete too much cystinuria, which is a type of amino acid.
  • Other types of stones - While rare, other types of kidney stones can occur.

The signs of a kidney stone include the following:

  • Severe pain in the side and back. The pain is located below the ribs.
  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen and groin.
  • Pain that fluctuates in intensity and comes in waves.
  • Painful urination.
  • Urine that is pink, red or brown.
  • Urine that is cloudy or smells foul.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Persistent need to urinate.
  • Urinating more often than you normally do.
  • Fever and chills, which indicate that there is an infection

No Stone Left Unturned for Prevention

So are there ways to prevent kidney stones? A new study out of the University of California, San Francisco Medical Center, Georgetown University and the University of Washington School of Medicine looked at the relationship between kidney stone formation in postmenopausal women and physical activity, dietary energy intake and body mass index (BMI).

Data from 85,225 older women who participated in the Women's Health Initiative Observational Study was used for the analysis. The researchers adjusted for age, race, race, region where the women lived, dietary water, sodium, intake of animal protein and calcium intake.

Their analysis suggested:

  • The risk of kidney stones in postmenopausal women may drop by as much as 21 percent when the women participated in greater physical activity.
  • The amount of physical activity -as opposed to the intensity of the activity - was found to be a key factor in lowering the risk of kidney stones in postmenopausal women.
  • Eating higher caloric foods may increase the risk of developing kidney stones by more than 40 percent. Therefore, lowering total daily caloric intake may be beneficial in reducing the risk of kidney stone disease.

The Mayo Clinic also points to the following prevention methods:

  • Drink water throughout the day.
  • Eater fewer foods that are rich in oxalate. These foods include rhubarb, beets, okra, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, nuts, tea, chocolate and soy products.
  • Lower the amount of salt and animal protein you consume.
  • Use caution about taking calcium supplements. However, food with calcium doesn't affect your risk of getting kidney stones.
  • Take medications that can control the amount of minerals and acid in urine.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

American Urological Association. (2013). Increased physical activity linked to lower risk of kidney stones.

Mayo Clinic. (2012). Kidney stones.

UT Southwestern Medical Center. (2010). Hormone therapy after menopause might increase risk of kidney stones, UT Southwestern findings suggest.