Kidney stones impact over half a million people each year – it affects people of all ages. Approximately 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at one point in their lives.
What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are solid crystals that form from the salts in urine. They vary in location and size. Kidney stones can block the flow of urine which can cause infection and kidney damage. In severe cases, it may even cause kidney failure.
The risk of kidney stones is about 9% in women and 19% in men. And once you have had one kidney stone, you are 50% more likely to get another one within 5 to 7 years.
Types of Kidney Stones
There are four main types of kidney stones, each with its own cause. Based on your family history and diet, you may be more at risk of developing certain types of kidney stones.
Types of kidney stones include:
- Calcium Stones. The most common type of kidney stones are calcium stones, typically in the form of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance that is found in food. Furthermore, it is produced daily by your liver. Calcium stones are linked with foods high in oxalate content, such as chocolate, nuts, potatoes, beets, black tea, and spinach.
- Struvite Stones. Struvite stones form due to certain types of urinary tract infections. These stones tend to grow quickly and become quite large, sometimes occupying the entire kidney. If left untreated, it can cause frequent and severe urinary tract infections, and eventually, loss of kidney function. Struvite stones are more common in women.
- Uric Acid Stones. Uric acid stones tend to occur in people who do not drink enough fluids, those who have gout, and those who eat a high-protein diet. Genetic factors may also increase your risk of developing uric acid stones. Uric acid stones are more common in men.
- Cystine Stones. Cystine stones form in people with hereditary genetic disorder cystinuria. This disorder leads to the excessive excretion of the amino acid cysteine in the urine, which leads to the formation of cystine stones in the ureter, bladder, and kidneys.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
Here are some factors which can increase your risk of developing kidney stones:
- Family History. If someone in your family has kidney stones, you are more likely to develop it too.
- Personal History. Once you have had one kidney stone, you are 50% more likely to get another one within 5 to 7 years.
- Certain Diets. Eating a diet that’s high in sugar, salt, and protein can increase your risk of developing certain types of kidney stones.
- Obesity. Research shows that weight gain, large waist size, and a high body mass index (BMI) can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
- Other Medical Conditions. Certain medical conditions such as urinary tract infections, hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, and Crohn’s disease can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
Signs and Symptoms
Often, kidney stones do not cause symptoms. However, once it moves around within your kidney or passes into your ureter, you may experience these signs and symptoms:
- Nausea and Vomiting
- Frequent Urination
- Cloudy or Bad Smelling Urine
- Blood in the Urine
- Severe Pain in the Side and Back (below the ribs)
- Sweating, chills, and Fever (if an infection is present)
Treatment for Kidney Stones
There are several treatment options available for kidney stones. Treatment may vary depending on the type of kidney stone you have, its size, and the cause.
- Small Kidney Stones
For small kidney stones that cause minimal symptoms, invasive treatment is not required. To pass a small stone, you should:
- Drink Enough Fluids. To flush out your urinary system, drink fluids – mostly water –throughout the day. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day to pass about 2.5 liters of urine daily.
- Take Certain Medications. Your doctor may prescribe certain medications to help pass your kidney stone. Note: Passing a small kidney stone may cause some discomfort and pain. To alleviate pain, your doctor may also prescribe pain relievers.
- Large Kidney Stones
When kidney stones do not pass by themselves, there are several medical treatments and surgical options available.
- Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). ESWL is a non-invasive treatment option that utilizes sound waves to crush kidney stones into smaller pieces so that they can easily pass into the bladder.
- Ureteroscopy (URS). URS involves inserting a fiberoptic camera up into the ureter and kidney without any incisions. This allows your doctor to use delicate instruments to break up or remove kidney stones.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL). PCNL is a surgical procedure. During the procedure, a small tube is inserted through a small incision in your back to directly break up larger kidney stones or to remove them completely.
- Pyelolithotomy. Pyelolithotomy is a procedure wherein kidney stones are removed from the ureter or from within the renal pelvis. It can be done as a laparoscopic or open procedure.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Reduce your risk of developing kidney stones by:
- Stay Hydrated. The best preventative measure against kidney stones is proper fluid intake. Experts recommend drinking at least 8 glasses of water each day to pass about 2.5 liters of urine daily.
- Reduce Your Sodium Intake. Research shows that too much salt in your urine prevents calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood. This can result in high urine calcium, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. So, make sure to avoid a high-salt diet.
- Limit Your Animal Protein Intake. Eating too much animal protein, such as poultry, seafood, and red meat increases the level of uric acid and may lead to the formation of kidney stones. A high-protein diet can also reduce citrate levels, the chemical in urine that prevents stones from forming. As much as possible, avoid or limit your animal protein intake to 1 serving per day.
Kidney stones are common and it affects people of all ages. While there is no guarantee that preventative methods will work, they can significantly reduce your risk. The best preventative measure against kidney stones is proper fluid intake and making certain dietary changes.
If you have a condition that increases your risk of developing kidney stones, such as obesity or urinary tract infection, consult your doctor. They can provide recommendations to help you better manage your condition, which in turn can decrease your risk of developing kidney stones.
If you have a personal history of kidney stones, take preventative measures to prevent new ones from forming. Remember, you are 50% more likely to get another stone once you’ve had it.