Gynecologic and reproductive issues in women on dialysis

Jean L. Holley, Rebecca J. Schmidt, Filitsa H. Bender, Francis Dumler, Melissa Schiff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most women on dialysis are amenorrheic and do not ovulate, but little information about menstrual patterns in women on dialysis exists, especially since the introduction and use of recombinant human erythropoietin, a therapy that may improve sexual interest and function. In this study, women who were ≤ 55 years of age at the start of dialysis (n = 76) completed questionnaires and form the study group. Women older than 55 years at the start of dialysis did not complete the entire questionnaire (n = 115), but their medication records were reviewed for estrogen replacement therapy. The questionnaire asked about pregnancies, menstrual periods (regularity, frequency, duration, character of flow, menopause), and menopause before beginning dialysis and currently. Women also responded to questions about sexual activity, use of birth control, contraception counseling by physicians, yearly Papanicolaou smears, and mammograms. Demographic data (age, race, age at the time dialysis started, mode of dialysis, use of recombinant human erythropoietin, and history of renal transplant) were also obtained through the questionnaires. Fifty-nine percent of the 76 women who completed the study were white and had been on dialysis a median of 3 years (range, 0.1 to 18 years). The median age was 43 years, 68% were on hemodialysis, 90% were receiving recombinant human erythropoietin, and 70% had been pregnant (a total of 179 pregnancies; four pregnancies in four women occurred after the start of dialysis). Significantly more women were menstruating before dialysis started than currently (63% v 42%; P < 0.025), but the difference could be explained by patient age: currently menstruating women were younger (37 ± 9 v 46 ± 11 years; P = 0.0002). More women reported menstrual regularity before beginning dialysis (75% v 42% currently; P < 0.005), but there were no differences in number of days between or number of days of menstruation before beginning dialysis and currently. Menstrual flow was reported as heavier currently by more women (64% heavy flow with clots v 38% before dialysis started; P < 0.05). The median age at menopause was 47 years; 28% of the women were postmenopausal. Fifty percent of the women were sexually active, but only 36% used birth control. Discussions between the women and their nephrologist about possible pregnancy and contraception were reported by only 13% of women. Sixty-three percent of the women reported having yearly Papanicolaou smears end 73% had had a mammogram. Only 5% of the 113 women who were older than 55 years when they began dialysis were receiving estrogen replacement therapy. Amenorrhea was reported in this study by a smaller proportion of women than in studies conducted before the introduction of recombinant human erythropoietin. The possibility that erythropoietin may restore normal hormonal cyclic function in women with end-stage renal disease requires further study. Nephrologists as well as primary care physicians and gynecologists need to focus more on the gynecologic concerns of women on dialysis, including the potential for pregnancy. The effects of estrogen replacement on atherosclerosis and osteoporosis, and consideration of such therapy in women on dialysis warrants attention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)685-690
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Kidney Diseases
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • Amenorrhea
  • end-stage renal disease
  • estrogen replacement
  • sexuality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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