Kidney Stones – Everything You Need to Know!
Millions of people all over the world are rushed to emergency rooms due to the unbearable pain caused by kidney stones. Estimates show that 1 in 10 people will have kidney stones at some point in their life. And yet we refuse to take the problem seriously by educating ourselves about this common problem. Most people either feel it will never happen to them or underestimate how painful they are.
Medeline Zech Ruiz, in her book, I MARRIED A DICK DOCTOR, has dedicated an entire chapter on the severeness of the pain caused due to kidney stones. She describes her husband’s experience in the army where seasoned soldiers who are trained to endure extreme pain and have optimal physical fitness have been brought to their knees with kidney stone pain. This only emphasises the point that we are trying to make, kidney stones should not be taken lightly, and you should do everything in your power to avoid getting them.
In this article will try and simplify all the medical information about this condition to give you a better understanding of kidney stones, their types, causes and symptoms.
What exactly are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are nothing but a small, hard deposit that forms in the kidney. In medical terminology, they are also called “renal calculi”, “nephrolithiasis” or “urolithiasis”. These hard deposits are generally made up of minerals and salts that are formed in your kidneys. These particles which usually are passed out of the body sometimes stick together to form hard lumps.
There are many different types of kidney stones based on the particles they are formed of:
1. Calcium Oxalate Stones
These are the most common type of kidney stones. They occur due to high levels of calcium and Oxalate or uric acid. They are linked to food that contains a high level of Oxalate like beets, black tea, chocolate, nuts, potatoes and spinach.
2. Calcium Phosphate Stones
Calcium Phosphate kidney stones are formed due to some abnormality in the functioning of the urinary system. You may need to get some blood tests done to determine if you have any underlying urinary or kidney issues.
3. Struvite stones
Women are more prone to getting this type of kidney stones. They tend to develop due to certain types of Urinary Tract Infections and grow quickly. They also tend to get very large.
4. Uric Acid Stones
These stones are more common in men. People whose water intake is less and who consume a high animal protein diet are more at risk for Uric Acid Stones. People with a family history of gout or those who have had chemotherapy are also prone to these stones.
5. Cystine Stones
These stones are formed due to a hereditary genetic disorder called Cystinuria. This disorder leads to a collection of excessive amino acid cystine in the urine. This can lead to the formation of stones, not just in the kidneys but also in the bladder and ureters.
These are the most common types of stones that occur. We now know that the accumulation or deficiency of certain elements leads to kidney stones. Let us now understand which are the most common causes that lead to conditions where kidney stones can occur.
What causes kidney stones?
Dehydration is the most common cause of the formation of kidney stones. The minerals, calcium and salts that are found in our kidneys, usually pass out from the body through urine. But if you drink less water than what is required by your body, your urine becomes concentrated. When there is too much waste to process and too little liquid to help with the flushing, crystals begin to form in the urine. These crystals floating in the concentrated urine attract other particles, and they join together to form minute rock-like structures in the kidney.
When they say that you should drink water to wash out the toxins, they are not metaphorical. You literary need to make sure that your water intake is adequate to avoid kidney stones.
High body mass index is harmful to health in many ways. In this case, too, it increases the risk of kidney stones. Fat around the stomach and waist and a sudden increase in body weight can also lead to the formation of stones in certain people.
Most weight-loss surgeries are safe, but surgeries like a gastric bypass that cause malabsorption can also lead to the development of kidney stones.
As always, diet plays a vital role in anything related to health.
The most common kidney stones occur when calcium and Oxalate stick together in your urine. If you have a family history of kidney stones, it would be advisable to consult a nutritionist and reduce the quantity of oxalate-rich foods in your diet. Surprisingly Oxalate is found mostly in healthy food, so you cannot completely stop eating them, but can keep a watch on the intake of these foods.
High levels of sodium in your body can be another cause for kidney stones. We consume sodium mainly through table salt and hence can very easily control the amount we eat. Foods like salty snacks, pickles, canned or packaged food and processed meat all contain high amounts of sodium and should be avoided as much as possible. The benefit is not just to your kidney but to your entire body.
Another red flag is too much of animal protein in your diet. Animal protein increases the level of uric acid in your body. This leads to your urine becoming too acidic and results in the formation of a certain type of stones. Apart from this animal protein raises the level of calcium in the urine and decreases the citrate. This too leads to stones.
There is a myth that milk or dairy products can cause kidney stones. This is not true.
Many diseases play a vital role in causing one or more types of kidney stones:
– Type 2 diabetes
– Renal tubular acidosis
Having these or other diseases like them, or having a family history of these diseases can also lead to kidney stone problems.
There are also certain genetic conditions like medullary sponge kidney, which can cause kidney stones.
– Certain antibiotics
– Some drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS
– Certain diuretics that are used for high blood pressure
6. Gut problems
People who have health issues like inflammatory bowel diseases are more likely to develop kidney stones. Also, people prone to frequent bouts of diarrhea can be susceptible to stones.
Now that you know that what aspects of your lifestyle may put you at high risk for getting kidney stones, it is advisable to make moderate and sustainable changes that can be implemented over a long time. A little care and caution go a long way. A healthy lifestyle will not help you avoid kidney stones but improve your health and life quality.
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
You may do everything right and yet draw the shorter straw. Sometimes you develop kidney stones no matter how healthy your lifestyle is. Kidney stones vary in types and also in sizes. If you are lucky, the stones formed will be so small that they will remain in the kidney without causing any pain or discomfort. And many times, these small stones will pass out with urine without you ever coming to know of it.
But yes, that may not be the case every time. And it is prudent to have some knowledge about the symptoms of kidney stones so that you can receive timely treatment for it.
1. Pain in the back, belly or side
Kidney stone pain is considered to be one of the most terrible distress. Men compare it to being stabbed in the stomach, and women describe it as worse than labour pains. So, if you get a pain that feels like you have been punched, do not ignore it and rush to your doctor immediately.
Kidney stone pain happens suddenly and keeps radiating around as the stone moves. The pain can be along your side and back or could be in the belly and groin area.
Kidney stone pain comes and goes in waves with the pain getting worse with contractions as the body tries to remove the stone.
2. Pain or burning during urination
Once the stone reaches the junction between the ureter and bladder, you will start experiencing pain while urinating. The pain could be sharp or have a burning sensation. Sometimes it could be a UTI that causes similar pain. But in either case, it is advisable to see a doctor.
3. Urgent need to go
Another symptom similar to UTI is the urgency and frequency to go to the washroom. This is a sign that the stone has moved to the lower part of your urinary tract. It is very common for people to keep running to the bathroom frequently.
4. Blood in the urine
Blood in the urine is a common symptom if you have urinary tract stones. This condition is also called hematuria. The blood could be red, pink or brown, and many times the blood cells are too small to be seen without a microscope. Doctors get tests done to check for this condition.
5. Cloudy or smelly urine
Healthy urine is clear and does not smell too much. Cloudy or foul-smelling urine is a sign of infection in your kidneys or urinary tract.
Almost 8 per cent of the people suffering from acute kidney stones also had a UTI. So even if it so gets it checked.
6. Going a small amount at a time
Many times, when a large kidney stone gets stuck in the ureter, it may slow down or completely stop the flow of urine.
In case if you have such a blockage, you will urinate only a little each time you go. In case it completely stops, it is an emergency, and you should rush to the doctor.
7. Nausea and vomiting
It is common for people with kidney stones to have nausea and vomiting. It happens as the nerves in the kidney are connected to the gastrointestinal tract. The stones in the kidney can irritate the GI tract nerves, leading to an upset stomach.
8. Fever and chills
Fever and chills are a sure sign that you have an infection in your kidney or another part of your urinary system. Combined with kidney stones, it can be a severe problem. Many a time, the stones trigger these infections.
Any fever with pain should immediately be investigated. Fever associated with infections tend to run high, and could also be a sign of some other serious problem.
Our intention behind listing out these symptoms is not to scare you but to make you aware of the different ways a kidney stone may present itself. This article is all about helping you make more informed choices when faced with a similar situation in future.
What happens if you are unlucky enough to be visited by these unwanted guests in your body. Apart from the treatment plan, the doctor chalks out for you, what else can you do to flush out the stones from your system.
How can I clear my kidney stones?
So along with following all the instructions given by your doctor, the best and only thing that you can do is keep drinking fluids. The water, of course, is the best remedy but we understand you may get bored with it. Natural lemonade, vegetable juices, fruit juices, soups without cream and corn starch, green tea etc. are all good options for flushing out kidney stones.
We hope we have armed you with enough information to tackle kidney stones if you ever have to endure them. Meanwhile, our lifestyle suggestions should keep you in a healthy state and hopefully avert the problem.
For more information regarding kidney stones and issues connected to the urinary system, you can read our book I Married A Dick Doctor By Medeline Zech Ruiz.