Kidney stones are solids formed in the kidneys when substances like calcium, oxalate and phosphorus that are excreted through the urine become concentrated. A kidney stone may either settle down in the kidneys or travel through the urinary tract. Kidney stones usually vary in size. So a smaller crystal may comfortably travel down the urinary tract and get expelled on its own without causing any pain or discomfort.
However, when the crystals increase in size they may from larger hard stones which tend to get stuck as they pass along the urinary tract. This can cause several problems. Mainly it may block the usual flow of urine, causing extreme pain and bleeding. Other symptoms of kidney stones include pain in the lower back region, vomiting and nausea.
There are several factors that predispose an individual to kidney stones. Most common factors include family history of kidney stones, repeated urinary tract infections, blocked urinary tract, or any health condition that causes increase the level of substances that are usually excreted through the urine. Lack of sufficient intake of water and certain medications can also cause kidney stones. Prevention of kidney stones include medications and dietary modification. You may also like to read about kidney stones in children.
As men have more muscle mass compared to women, they are at an increased risk of kidney stones. This is because, the daily breakdown of muscle mass leads to predisposition of stones in the kidneys. Here are 3 good reasons to get a kidney check up done.
Other common risk factors of kidney stones include -
Family history: You are more likely to develop stones if someone in your family has had stones
Personal history: The risk of having a kidney stone is much higher if you have already had a stone.
Age: Though kidney stones can occur at any age, they are most common in adults aged 40 and above.
Obesity: High body mass index (BMI), large waist size and weight gain have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones.
Dehydration: Inadequate fluid intake will increase your risk of kidney stones. People living in hot arid regions or working in environments where they tend to sweat a lot will have a higher risk of developing stones. Here are more health risks of dehydration you are unaware of!
Existing medical conditions: Gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea cause changes in the digestive process that affect your absorption of calcium and water, increasing the levels of stone-forming substances in your urine. Renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, thyroid problem (hyperparathyroidism) and some urinary tract infections can increase stone formation.
Certain diets: Eating a diet that's high in animal protein, sodium and has low fibre content can increase your risk for kidney stones. This is especially true for a high-sodium diet. Too much sodium increases the calcium load on your kidneys, significantly increases your risk of kidney stones. Read about how a high-calorie diet can increase your risk of kidney stones by 42%.
Unfortunately, kidney stones do not cause any symptoms until they move around in your kidney or pass through your ureter, the tube connecting the kidneys and urinary bladder. In fact, small stones may pass out even without causing any symptoms. But, with larger stones, following symptoms may be seen:
- Back and groin pain
- Pain on urination
- Abnormal urine colour
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent urge to urinate
Here is detailed information on 5 early symptoms of kidney stones you should know.
Ultrasound of the kidney, ureter and bladder (KUB) is the most convenient and frequently used investigation to diagnose kidney stones. An X-ray KUB can further assist in diagnosis. However, in case the stones are small, the patient is obese or there is lot of gas in the abdomen, a CT scan is better method of diagnosis.
Read about 8 tests for checking if your kidneys are functioning fine.
Treatment is based on the size of the stones. Smaller stones can be treated with plenty of fluids, pain medications and certain anti spasmodic drugs (pain and spasm relieving) which help in passing the stone out. But even when the symptoms disappear, it is essential to confirm whether the stone has been eliminated through an ultrasound or a CT scan. Read about new drugs that can dissovle kidney stones.
Larger stones which do not pass out easily require medical therapy and more advanced treatments such as -
Sound waves: Depending on size and location of the stones, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) may be done. ESWL uses sound waves to create strong vibrations (shock waves) that break the stones into tiny pieces, making them easier to be passed through urine. The procedure lasts for about 45 to 60 minutes. It can cause moderate pain, so it is preferably performed under sedation or light anesthesia. ESWL can also cause blood in the urine, and discomfort as the stone fragments pass through the urinary tract. Depending on the size of stones, one or more sessions may be needed.
Here's a new method to treat kidney stones.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL): This treatment is used for very large stones or in case where ESWL is unsuccessful. The procedure involves surgically removing the stone using small telescopes and instruments that are inserted through a small incision in the back.
Ureteroscopic Removal: Smaller stones in the ureter or kidneys may be removed by passing a thin lighted tube (ureteroscope) equipped with a camera through the urethra and urinary bladder to the ureter. Once the stone is located, special tools can snare the stone or break it into pieces making them easier to pass through the urine. A small tube (stent) may be placed in the ureter to relieve symptoms like swelling and to promote healing.
Laser Lithotripsy: Some stones cannot be treated with ESWL because of their size, location, type. In such cases, uretero-scopic laser lithotripsy may be used. In this procedure, a tiny fiberoptic camera is passed into the urinary tract through the urethra to locate the stones in the bladder, kidney or ureter. Then using laser technique, larger stone are fragmented into thousands of small pieces, which are flushed out through urine.
Read to know are your medications damaging your kidneys?
Untreated kidney stones can significantly damage the kidneys and even lead to end stage renal disease (ESRD), requiring dialysis. But early detection and treatment may completely reverse the damage, even in those on dialysis.
Unfortunately many a times, the kidney stones remain undetected for years, because minor symptoms are ignored/neglected and by the time the patient consults a doctor the damage becomes irreversible or only partially reversible.
Here are 6 foods to avoid if you are suffering from kidney stones.
The chances of recurrence of kidney stones are quite high. More than half people, who have had a stone in the past, will develop a new stone in their lifetime.
Read more about 6 expert tips to treat and prevent kidney stones.
Here are few 10 simple ways to prevent kidney stones -
- Drink lots of water
- Drink healthy beverages
- Eat smartly
- Eat more dairy foods every day
- Limit the intake of seafood
- Reduce the intake of salt
- Maintain healthy weight
- Know your risk
- Don’t hold your pee for too long
- Avoid alcohol and cigarettes
Did you know DASH diet could help prevent kidney stones too?