Introduction Kidney stones form when certain chemicals in your urine crystallize into solid masses. They can cause extreme pain and discomfort as they pass through the urinary tract. Understanding how kidney stones develop and implementing preventive measures can help reduce your risks of suffering from them.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard, crystalline deposits made from minerals and salt in the urine. They form inside the kidney and can range in size from a tiny grain of sand to larger than a golf ball.
Kidney stones typically leave the body in the urine stream. Smaller stones may pass down the ureters to the bladder and exit the body during urination without being noticed.
However, larger stones may get stuck along the urinary tract, blocking the flow of urine and causing severe pain.
Types Of Kidney Stones
- Calcium stones – The most common type, made up of calcium oxalate. They make up around 75% of all kidney stones.
- Uric acid stones – Form when too much acid builds up in urine. People with gout or going through chemotherapy are more likely to develop these.
- Struvite stones – These result from urinary tract infections caused by bacteria like E. coli.
- Cystine stones – A rare genetic disorder causes cystine amino acids to leak through the kidneys into the urine, forming crystals.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
- Dehydration – Inadequate fluid intake leads to concentrated urine with more crystal-forming minerals.
- High sodium diet – Too much sodium increases calcium levels in urine, which can form crystals.
- Obesity – Raises the risk of uric acid stones by increasing uric acid in urine.
- Chronic digestive conditions – Diseases like Crohn’s, celiac, and pancreatitis increase stone risk.
- Family history – Genetic predisposition can make some people more prone to kidney stones.
- Hot climates – Increased sweating leads to dehydration and concentrated urine.
- Certain medications – Diuretics, calcium-based antacids, anti-HIV drugs, and anti-seizure medications can promote stones.
Kidney Stone Symptoms Common signs and symptoms
- Intense cramping, pain on one side of the back/abdomen
- Pain that comes and goes in waves, varying in intensity
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- Cloudy, foul-smelling, or bloody urine
- Frequent and urgent need to urinate
- Nausea, vomiting, fever, and chills
- Pain radiating from the back around to the lower abdomen
Diagnosing Kidney Stones
- CT scan – Provides clear images showing the size, shape, and location of stones.
- Ultrasound – Uses sound waves to visualize stones.
- X-ray – Helps detect calcified stones.
- MRI – Creates detailed images without using radiation.
- Urine analysis – Checks for blood, pus, excess minerals, and crystals.
- Bloodwork – Measures levels of electrolytes, calcium, uric acid, and kidney function.
How To Prevent Kidney Stones?
- Drink plenty of fluids – Consume 2 to 3 liters of water daily to dilute stone-forming minerals in the urine.
- Limit sodium intake – Reducing sodium to 1500mg per day prevents excess calcium in the urine.
- Eat calcium-rich foods – Don’t reduce calcium. Get 1000 to 1200mg daily through food to prevent oxalate absorption.
- Reduce animal protein – Too much animal protein acidifies the urine, increasing stone risk. Avoid excess meat, poultry, fish, and eggs.
- Eat citrus fruits and vegetables – The citrate and phytate in produce block stone formation.
- Avoid stone-forming foods – Cut back on foods high in oxalates like chocolate, spinach, nuts,, and strawberries.
- Lose weight if obese – Being overweight increases uric acid and other stone-causing chemicals in urine.
Kidney Stone Treatment
- Medications – Pain relievers, alpha-blockers, steroids, or potassium citrate to help pass stones.
- Shock wave lithotripsy – Sound waves break up larger stones into passable fragments.
- Ureteroscopy – A small scope is inserted through the urethra to remove smaller stones.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy – Surgery to remove very large or complicated stones.
- Laser lithotripsy – A laser breaks up stones via a nephroscope inserted directly into the kidney.
- Filtering procedures – Used if stones continually recur and medication fails.
Prevention is Key While kidney stones can’t always be prevented, making diet and lifestyle changes based on your specific risks can dramatically reduce your likelihood of developing them. Be sure to stay well hydrated, moderate your sodium intake, and eat a balanced diet low in foods that seem to trigger your stones. Working closely with your doctor and urologist allows you to manage kidney stone risks properly. Staying diligent will help avoid the recurrence of this extremely painful condition.