What are Kidney Stones?
One of the main functions of your kidneys is to filter out waste products from your blood, and expel it as urine. However, these waste products can build up in your kidneys and turn into kidney stones. Having recurring kidney stones causes a lot of pain and discomfort, and can even lead to complications.
Kidney stones are formed when certain substances such as calcium, uric acid, and oxalate start to build up in your kidneys. Over time, these substances crystallize into “stones.”
Smaller stones are usually passed when you urinate, though it can be very painful. However, larger stones can get trapped in the kidneys and block the flow of urine.
If left untreated, kidney stones can increase the risk of getting urinary tract infections, or even cause a build-up of urine, which can cause a lot of strain on the kidneys.
How Common Are Kidney Stones?
About 13% of men and 7% of women have kidney stones. It also can occur at any age, but it is more common between the ages of 40 to 60. Additionally, once a person develops kidney stones, there is a 50% chance of it recurring.
This is why it is important to know how to prevent kidney stones, what symptoms to watch out for, and what forms of treatment are available in case it happens to you.
What are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones usually tend to go unnoticed, especially if the stones stay inside the kidney. Once it travels out of the kidneys or blocks the path of urine, a person with kidney stones will start to experience the following symptoms:
- Recurring kidney stones usually cause pain in the lower abdomen, back, or belly
- Pain when urinating
- Blood in your urine
- Nausea and vomiting
A combination of these symptoms could mean that you might be suffering from kidney stones.
When Should I See My Doctor?
If you experience any of the symptoms above, it would be a good idea to consult your doctor as soon as possible. The sooner kidney stones get diagnosed, the sooner treatment can start, and you will avoid further pain and discomfort.
Causes and Risk Factors
Kidney stones happen when your kidneys are unable to drain your urine properly, usually because of a lack of water. As a result, certain substances start to build up inside your kidneys. Over time, these substances start to crystallize and form stones.
Calcium stones are by far the most common type of stones, and occur in about 80% of people with kidney stones. An estimated 5% to 10% of people with kidney stones suffer from uric acid stones, and about 10% have what are called struvite stones.
A person’s diet plays a big role when it comes to their risk of developing stones. People who eat a lot of food rich in oxalic acid have an increased risk of kidney stones, as well as people who eat a lot of animal internal organs.
In some cases, another condition could increase a person’s risk for kidney stones. For example, people with gout have higher levels of uric acid in their blood, so they are more likely to have uric acid stones.
Not having enough water also contributes to the risk of kidney stones, since the kidneys need water to help flush out these substances in your urine.
It can also be caused by a lack of a mineral called citrate. Citrate can help prevent stones from forming, so if you do not have enough citrate in your body, stones can start to form.
Lastly, certain medications can increase a person’s risk of developing kidney stones. These medicines can sometimes form crystals in the kidneys, or cause changes in the composition of urine that can increase the risk of stones.
What Are the Risk Factors for Kidney Stones?
Here are some of the possible risk factors for developing kidney stones:
- If you have a family member who has kidney stones
- Not drinking enough water
- Having a diet that is rich in protein, sugar, and salt
- Being overweight or obese also increases the risk of kidney stones
- Health conditions such as gout increase your risk of stones
- Certain medicines, such as calcium-based antacids, increase the risk of kidney stones
- Having recurring kidney stones
Avoiding these risk factors can greatly lower your risk of having kidney stones.
Diagnosis and Treatment
How Are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
For the most part, your doctor can make a diagnosis based on the symptoms you are experiencing. However, there are some cases where your doctor might ask you to take additional examinations such as the following:
- An ultrasound is a usual procedure done to check for kidney stones. This is because kidney stones do not appear in X-rays.
- Your doctor may ask you to undergo a CT or computed tomography scan. This helps to detect if there are any stones in your kidneys.
- Blood and urine tests can help give your doctor an idea of what may be causing your kidney stones.
Treatment for kidney stones depends on the diagnosis. Aside from getting rid of the stones, your doctor would also give you recommendations on how to prevent the stones from recurring.
Here are some of the possible forms of treatment:
- The most common form of breaking up stones is called lithotripsy. This procedure uses a shock wave machine, which breaks up kidney stones without any invasive procedures. Most hospitals in the Philippines offer this form of treatment.
- If the stones are not causing any problems, your doctor may ask you to wait and see if you pass the stones through your urine.
- Painkillers may be prescribed by your doctor to help with the pain.
- Medications called alpha-blockers are also sometimes used to help relax your muscles, which allows larger stones to pass.
- In certain cases, a minor surgery may be required to remove the blockage, but this is not usually the case.
- Your doctor may also recommend a change in diet if your stones are the result of the food you eat.
Here are some effective ways to prevent kidney stones from forming:
- Be sure to keep yourself hydrated. Water helps your kidneys flush out waste material and staying hydrated prevents kidney stones from forming.
- Consuming too much vitamin C can increase your risk for kidney stones because vitamin C can increase the oxalate in your urine. Try eating more fruits and vegetables instead.
- Contrary to popular belief, calcium can actually prevent kidney stones. Calcium does this by balancing out the levels of oxalate in your body. However, try to avoid calcium supplements as these can have the opposite effect. Try to get your calcium from food instead.
- Lowering your salt intake also helps lower the risk of developing kidney stones.
Here’s a handy infographic to help you remember these tips:
Kidney stones are a common, yet highly preventable condition. By taking the necessary precautions and being careful about your diet and your health, you can significantly lower your risk of kidney stones and avoid a lot of pain and discomfort.
Learn more about the urological system, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.