Kidney stones are a common ailment, affecting over three million Americans each year.
The prevalence of kidney stones is increasing rapidly in the US, mainly due to poor diet choices and inadequate water consumption. Approximately one out of every eleven people will develop a kidney stone in their lifetime. Kidney stones form when certain minerals and salts become concentrated enough in urine to form crystals. Many of these crystal formations may stay in the kidney forever as they grow. Or, they may remain as small as a grain of sand and pass unnoticed through the urinary tract. But as the crystals grow into larger stones and attempt to make their way through the urinary tract, they often get stuck in the ureter, causing spasms and pressure in the kidney as they block the flow of urine, causing severe pain. Fortunately, there are many simple ways to prevent most types of kidney stones.
The 6 Important Questions About Kidney Stones
1: Who is most likely to get a kidney stone?
A: Although anyone can get a kidney stone, some people are more likely to get them than others. Males are more likely to get kidney stones than women, and non-Hispanic whites are more likely to get them than any other ethnic group. Other people who are at a higher risk are those who:
- have had kidney stones before
- don’t drink enough water
- have a family history of kidney stones
- have a diet high in protein, sodium or sugar
- are overweight or obese
- have had intestinal surgery, including gastric bypass surgery
- have polycystic kidney disease
- have high levels of oxalate, cystine, uric acid, or calcium in their urine
2: What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
A: Many kidney stones are smaller than a grain of sand. A tiny kidney stone that moves quickly through the urinary tract may cause no symptoms. However, they can be much larger, producing symptoms such as:
- Sharp severe intermittent pain in the back, lower abdomen and groin
- Pain while urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
3: What is the treatment for a kidney stone?
A: The treatment for a kidney stone is decided based on its size, chemical composition, and whether it is blocking the urinary tract or causing pain. A doctor, typically a urologist, will determine the best treatment based on these factors. In addition, urine tests, blood tests, X-rays and CT scans will help determine the appropriate treatment. If a kidney stone is small, a doctor may recommend or prescribe pain medication and fluid consumption to help push the stone through the urinary tract. However, if the stone is large or is blocking the urinary tract, additional treatment options will need to be pursued.
4: What happens if a kidney stone is too large to pass through the urinary tract?
A: There are several options. Non-invasive shock waves may be used to break the stones into small pieces. An instrument can be inserted through the urethra then can remove the stone or use a laser to break it down. Rarely, surgery may be required, removing the stone through an incision in the back.
5: Are there different types of kidney stones?
A: Yes, there are four types of kidney stones, and each has a different chemical composition. Although the symptoms of all kidney stones are the same, preventative measures can be taken to minimize recurrences based on stone composition. Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stones. Calcium combines with oxalate, a natural chemical found in many foods. Less frequently, calcium binds with phosphate to create a stone. Uric acid stones form when urine is overly acidic. Struvite stones form due to urinary tract infections. Cystine stones are rare. They form due to a genetic condition. Cystine will leak out of the kidneys and into a person's urine if they suffer from this genetic condition.
6: How can kidney stones be prevented?
A: There’s several ways to reduce the chances of getting a kidney stone. Some of the most common options include:
- Drink plenty of water. At least two liters per day is recommended.
- Avoid foods that contain oxalates. Foods high in oxalates include spinach, rhubarb, chocolate, beets, sweet potatoes and peanuts.
- Limit sodium intake.
- Increase intake of calcium-rich foods. Calcium binds with oxalate before reaching the kidneys, lowering the risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones.
- Limit protein intake to avoid uric acid stones.
- Maintain a healthy weight