Kate is a mother of two and holds a bachelor of science (B.S.) degree from Sonoma State University. She's also a passionate researcher.
What Are Kidney Stones and How Do They Form?
Renal lithiasis or nephrolithiasis are commonly referred to as kidney stones. These stones can be incredibly painful and even downright debilitating! Most people suffer most from the fear and worry that surrounds the thought of passing these stones while urinating.
Kidney stones are formed inside your kidneys and are considered hard deposits made of salts and minerals. These minerals and salts, already located inside your kidneys, develop because of the concentration of your urine. The concentrated urine allows the salts and minerals to bind together and become crystallized, forming those oh-so-painful kidney stones.
There Is Not One Type of Kidney Stone, but Four Various Types!
While kidney stones come in all shapes and sizes, there are only four main types of kidney stones:
- Cystine Stones: If you have too much cysteine, kidney stones may develop inside your kidneys. This is called cystinuria. Cystinuria occurs because of the presence of too many specific amino acids. Cysteine is found in large amounts in many common foods including: eggs, beef, chicken, lamb, pork, fish, cheese, soybeans, and sunflower seeds.
- Calcium Stones: The majority of kidney stones are in this category. They are calcium stones and form because of the calcium oxalate in your kidneys. Oxalate, often found in foods such as chocolate and vegetables, is also a naturally occurring substance made in your liver each day. Consuming too much vitamin D can also cause you to form calcium stones. Another cause of these stones is the formation of calcium phosphate. You may develop calcium stones because of a medical disorder such as renal tubular acidosis. Seizure medication is also another common cause of the formation of these stones.
- Struvite Stones: Struvite stones develop as a result of an infection in your body. For instance, a urinary tract infection can cause struvite stones. These kidney stones can sneak up on you because they often develop without warning and with few symptoms. Unfortunately, struvite stones can grow to be quite large.
- Uric Acid Stones: These kidney stones form for various reasons, many of which have to do with the amount of fluid you have in your body. For instance, if you lose too much fluid in your body or don't drink enough fluid throughout the day, this can cause the development of uric acid stones. You should have listened to your mother when she told you to drink plenty of water! Other causes of uric acid stones are a high-protein diet or if you suffer from gout.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
A kidney stone can affect your entire urinary tract system. It may not cause any symptoms until it travels to your ureter or it moves around inside your kidney. Once one of these two things occurs, you may feel some common signs and symptoms of kidney stones, such as:
- Producing small amounts of urine
- Pain in your back, side or ribs that is severe
- Pain that radiates to your groin or lower stomach
- Pain when you urinate
- Pain that varies in intensity or comes in waves
- Red, pink or brown urine
- Urinating more than usual
- Feeling the need to urinate more often
- Foul-smelling urine
- Cloudy urine
- Chills and fever (if you also have an infection)
Treatment for Kidney Stones
Once kidney stones form, passing them is extremely painful. The good news here (yes, there is good news) is that they do not cause any permanent scarring to your kidneys or damage to your urinary tract.
The treatment depends on the size of the stone and the type of symptoms you experience. A small stone with minimal symptoms will not require invasive treatment. Instead, you may be required to drink 2 to 3 quarts of water every day to pass the stone. You also may take pain relievers to get rid of painful symptoms.
For larger stones and worsening symptoms, more invasive treatment may be needed. Your doctor may attempt to break up the stone with sound waves or recommend surgery to remove the kidney stone.
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What Causes Kidney Stones?
Medical researchers cannot reach a consensus on why kidney stones develop. However, some research has shed a bit more light on what factors may contribute to your risk of forming kidney stones, including:
- Where you live: Your geographical location may make you predisposed to developing kidney stones. If fact, the south is referred to as the “stone belt” because high temperatures combined with inadequate fluid intake can cause you to develop stones in your kidney.
- Genes: Heredity plays an important role in whether you develop a stone in your kidney or not. You may have an inherited medical condition which causes a high level of calcium in your urine called hypercalciuria.
- Underlying medical condition: An underlying illness can cause kidney stone formation. These underlying illnesses include inflammatory bowel disease, renal tubular acidosis, and cystic fibrosis.
- Certain medicines: Certain medications, such as diuretics or water pills, can increase your chances of developing a stone in your kidney. Taking excessive doses of vitamins D and A and calcium-containing antacids can also increase the risk of developing kidney stones.
Ways You Can Prevent Kidney Stones
To avoid developing kidney stones, you have to avoid the things that cause them. This may be easier said than done, depending on the type of kidney stone you are trying to avoid. However, the good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to reduce your risks of kidney stone formation.
- Drink plenty of water every day: Water dilutes the salts and minerals that form stones in your kidneys. Try to drink at least enough water to pass 2 liters of urine daily. That amount is about eight 8-ounce cups of water.
- Include citrus beverages in your diet: Citrus beverages such as orange juice and lemonade are great at blocking kidney stone formation.
- Reduce your sodium intake: High sodium triggers kidney stones because it increases the amount of calcium in your kidneys. Your daily intake should be 2,300 mg of sodium or less. If you’ve already had a bout with kidney stones, lower your daily intake of sodium to 1,500 mg.
- Get the right amount of calcium: You need the right about of calcium for your daily needs. Too little calcium causes your oxalate levels to increase. This causes kidney stone formation. The amount of calcium you need is based on your age. You want to get your calcium from food rather than calcium supplements.
- Limit the meat: Too much animal protein such as eggs, meat, seafood and poultry increases the amount of uric acid in the body. Uric acid causes kidney stones. A high-protein diet can also decrease the kidney stone formation fighters like citrate. If you develop kidney stones frequently, the amount of daily animal protein you consume should be no larger than about the size of a deck of playing cards.
- Avoid all foods that cause kidney stone formation: Chocolate, nuts, spinach, and beets are some foods high in oxalate. Soda and tea are beverages high in phosphate, which can contribute to kidney stone formation. If you must consume some of these foods, try to eat them in smaller amounts.
- Ask your doctor about taking supplements or vitamins: Some supplements and vitamins may contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Your doctor may want to limit the number of supplements you take, such as calcium and fish liver oil supplements, to reduce your chances of developing a kidney stone.
- Consume foods rich in B vitamin and magnesium: Both magnesium and B vitamins work to reduce the oxalate and uric acid production in your body. They also work to improve your alkali content. Foods like cauliflower, bok choy, broccoli, and cabbage are good sources of magnesium and B vitamins.
Understand More About Kidney Stones to Avoid Developing Them
The best ways to prevent kidney stone formation is by changing your daily food and beverage consumption. It also is important to understand what makes you susceptible to developing a kidney stone in the first place. This means getting tested.
If you or a family member developed a kidney stone in the past, it is important to determine if this runs in your family. By consulting your physician, you will determine which type of kidney stones you are susceptible to and you will be better prepared to avoid them.
"Kidney Stones." October 31, 2017. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
"What Causes Kidney Stones?" (nd). Urology Care Foundation. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
"How Can I Prevent Kidney Stones?" (nd). WebMD. Retrieved January 24, 2018.
This content is for informational purposes only and does not substitute for formal and individualized diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed medical professional. Do not stop or alter your current course of treatment. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2018 Kate Daily