The Lowdown On Kidney Stones
If you have ever passed a kidney stone, you know how painful it can be.
By: Marlene Affeld
According to the National Institute Of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, kidney stones, also known as renal lithiasis, are a common disorder of the urinary tract accounting for more than a million health care visits each year. Medical research studies indicate that one in ten people in the United States will experience a kidney stone within their lifetime. However, science has yet to pinpoint the reason why men tend to have more kidney stones (also called nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis) than women.
The kidneys are two of our most vital organs, continuously filtering waste from the bloodstream to produce urine, which then flows from the kidneys to a small tube into the bladder. Our bladder stores urine until it exits the body through the urethra.
Kidney stones occur when mineral salts in the urine become highly concentrated, forming a solid stone. Typically, compounds in our urine inhibit these crystals from forming. When they don’t, crystals can form and accumulate on the inner surfaces of the kidney.
Kidney stones start to develop from chemicals filtered by the kidneys. In a healthy body, these substances, acting within the kidneys, balance each other. Kidney stones form when urine contains an excess of crystal-forming substances: calcium and uric acid, more than the available fluid can dilute. Kidney stone formation can occur when urine is highly alkaline or highly acidic.
When enough of these tiny crystals clump together, they form a stone. Occasionally they pass on their own: if not, stones travel, producing intense pain and profuse bleeding. Grown men have been known to have a kidney stone attack and fall to the ground withering in agony.
The third most common urological problem after prostate conditions and urinary tract infections, kidney stones can be excruciatingly painful. From the perspective of patients experiencing both, passing a kidney stone is considered more painful than difficult natural childbirth. A propensity to kidney stones seems to run in families. Did either of your parents suffer from kidney stones? If so, there is a two to three times increased likelihood that you will experience the same problem. Other common causes of kidney stones are gout, poor diet, and excessive consumption of vitamin D, which creates a mineral imbalance, and dehydration.
The long-term consequence of kidney stones is the damage they inflict on the kidneys. That’s why passing them is extremely important. Kidney stones can impair the passage of urine that has the potential to cause infection and resulting in long-term kidney damage if not recognized and treated promptly. Kidney failure can occur in severe cases.
Kidney Stones In Children
Once thought to be an adult affliction, kidney stones are very common in children. Kidney stones aren’t a problem for parents to take lightly. They can be so very painful, especially for young children. Make sure that your child is drinking adequate fluids and urinating on a regular basis throughout the day.
The stones are typically made up of calcium but may also contain amino acids (proteins) or uric acid. Patients with a kidney stone may have one or more in one or both kidneys. Kidney stones begin as minute specks that can gradually increase in size. A kidney stone can be smaller than a grain of sand or more substantial than a grapefruit.
A person with a tiny kidney stone may be unaware of the condition, as the kidney stone passes in the urine out of the body without causing discomfort, pain, or other problems. Persons with a large kidney stone may not experience symptoms as long as the stone remains in the kidney. It’s when the kidney stone starts to move into the ureter that it generates severe burning pain known as renal colic.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Stay well hydrated for your health. Many people don’t reach for a drink of water until they feel thirsty, yet adequate water consumption extends far beyond just quenching our thirst. Water is critical to life.
Half of your body is water, not bones, fat, or muscles. Stop and think about what this means. For a person weighing 150 pounds, 90 pounds of that weight is water. Without water, we literally “shrivel up and die.” This is the reason that in a survival situation, people can go for extended periods without food, but can’t last long without water. While water has a diverse array of functions in the human body, one of the most important is flushing salts from the kidneys.
Four types of kidney stones can form in the human body. It is helpful to know the difference when attempting to eliminate and prevent their formation. Kidney stones may contain several different combinations of chemicals. These chemical combos are part of a person’s typical diet and compose parts of the body, such as muscles and bones.
Calcium stones, resulting from high calcium intake and high oxalate excretion, are two types of kidney stones, with calcium oxalate stones being the more common of the two. Calcium oxalate stones form due to high calcium and high oxalate excretion. In the case of calcium phosphate stones, a combination of high urine calcium and alkaline urine are to blame.
Diets high in purines, a substance in animal protein such as in shellfish, fish, poultry, and meat, tend to increase uric acid in urine. When urine is persistently acidic, uric acid stones form. Concentrated uric acid in the urine settles, creating tiny stones by itself, or in combination with calcium.
Struvite kidney stones are the result of chronic kidney infections. The only way to prevent their reoccurrences is to remove the infected Struvite stones from the urinary tract and to stay free of infection to prevent their formation.
• Cystine stones result from a genetic disorder that causes cystine to pass or leak through the kidneys and into the urine, forming tiny crystals that tend to accumulate into stones.
To begin to understand how to prevent kidney stones, it is essential to understand the contributing factors that cause stones to form and to adopt diet changes that can help prevent kidney stone formation in the future. The most critical thing you can do to avoid kidney stones is to drink plenty of water to keep urine diluted and flushing away materials that may commingle and form painful kidney stones.
Medical experts recommend drinking plenty of pure, clean water daily in addition to any other beverages we consume. Additional foods rich in liquids such as watermelon, grapes, and citrus fruits should also be included in the diet to help flush the kidneys of mineral salt build-ups. Diet recommendations for different types of kidney stones include:
Uric Acid Stones
• Limit animal protein
Calcium Oxalate Stones
• Reduce your intake of sodium
• Reduce animal protein, such as fish, meat, eggs
• Make sure you are getting enough calcium from food or taking calcium supplements with food
• Avoid foods high in oxalate, such as nuts, spinach, rhubarb, and wheat bran
Calcium Phosphate Stones
• Reduce sodium
• Reduce animal protein
• Monitor your intake of calcium
Treatment of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are eliminated from the body, usually by the passage of the flow of urine. Many small kidney stones pass unnoticed without causing symptoms. It’s when stones grow to sufficient size before passage, that they can create obstructions of the ureter.
If an obstruction forms, a stretching or swelling of the broad upper renal pelvis and ureter can occur, muscle spasms of the ureter may produce painful symptoms as the stone moves. Pain may manifest in the shoulder, groin, or lower abdomen. Nausea or vomiting may occur. Blood evident in the urine is a warning sign of damage to the urine tract.
Drinking adequate amounts of water help prevent stone formation. Hydration is the key. People at high risk who have a family history of kidney stones or who have experienced a stone in the past may benefit from increase hydration and prescribed medication.
If you develop a kidney stone that causes symptoms, treatment may require hospitalization, a lot of pain medication, and specific medical procedures to remove or crush large stones. If the offending stone is crushed and reduced in size, then the particles can move more easily out of the body. Small stones may not require intervention or treatment other than consuming more liquid, and the stone will pass naturally. This process can last a couple of days or up to a week or more.
National Institute of Health - Kidney Stones