Kidney stones, or medically called renal lithiasis, nephrolithiasis, are small, firm mineral deposits, which form inside of the kidneys. The stones are made of acid salts and mineral.
Once you have had a kidney stone attack, the chances of recurrence are about 72- 81%, and the younger you are when you have the first attack – the bigger the risk of recurrence.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
If the stone is really small, there are no symptoms at all. Moreover, most likely you will never be aware that you have a stone until it moves in your ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). At that point, the most common symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Pain in the side and back, below the ribs;
- Pain “waves” burning from the side and back to the lower stomach and groin;
- Episodes of huge pain lasting 25-55 minutes of erratic intensity;
- Cloudy, foul-smelling and/or bloody urine;
- Persistent urge to urinate;
- Vomiting and nausea, and
- Chills and fever (usually indicates that an infection is present as well).
They are generally formed following a build-up of a material in the body. The build-up can be some of the following:
- cystine (an amino acid that aids build protein)
- uric acid (a left-over product produced when the body resolves food to use as energy)
Types of kidney stones
Knowing the type of stones aids determine the cause and can give indications on how to reduce the risk of getting more of these stones. Here are the types of kidney stones:
- Calcium stones – this is the most common type of kidney stone. It is usually in the form of calcium oxalate. An oxalate is a natural substance that can be found in food. Calcium stones can also appear in the form of calcium phosphate.
- Struvite stones – these stones form in response to certain infection, as a urinary tract infection. They can grow rapidly and become pretty large, many times with few symptoms or slight warning.
- Uric acid stones – they can form in people who do not consume enough liquids or who lose too much liquid, those who prefer a high-protein diet, and people who have gout. Some genetic factors also can increase the risk of uric acid stones.
- Cystine stones – cystine stones form in people with a genetic ailment that causes the kidneys to eliminate waste too much of amino acids.
- Other stones – this group includes fewer types of kidney stones that also can appear.
Factors that can increase your risk of developing this condition include:
- Dehydration – not consuming enough water every day may increase the risk of kidney stones. People who sweat a lot or those who live in warm climates may be at higher risk that others.
- Family history – if someone in your family already had this condition, you are more likely to get it, too.
- Personal history – if you have already experienced one or more kidney stones, you are at greater risk of developing another.
- Certain diets – diets high in sodium, sugar and protein can increase the risk of certain types of stones.
- Being obese and overweight – high body mass index (BMI), weight gain and large waist size have been related to an increased risk of developing kidney stones.
- Digestive disorders and surgeries – Gastric bypass surgeries, chronic diarrhea, or inflammatory bowel disease can cause changes in the digestive process, which affect the absorption of water and calcium, increasing the level of stone-forming substances in the urine.
- Other medical disorders – diseases that can increase the risk of a kidney stone include cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, some drugs and certain urinary infections.
Prevention of this condition can include a combination of certain lifestyle changes and/or some medications.
You can reduce your risks of kidney stones if you:
- Drink plenty of water every day
- Consume fewer oxalate-rich foods (try to avoid beets, rhubarb, okra, spinach, sweet potato, Swiss chard, tea, nuts, soy products and chocolate).
- Choose a diet low in animal protein and salt (reduce the amounts of salt you consume and choose no animal protein source, as legumes).
- Continue consuming calcium-rich food, but use caution with a calcium supplement (because calcium in food does not have any effects on your risk of kidney stones, thus continue eating calcium-rich foods unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Consult your doctor before taking any calcium supplements, as these have been related to increased risk of renal lithiasis).
Certain medication can control the amounts of acid and minerals in the urine and can be helpful in people who form some kinds of stones. Typically, the kind of drugs doctors prescribe will depend on the type of kidney stones the patient have. These are the most prescribed medications:
- For calcium stones – phosphate-containing preparation or thiazide diuretic;
- For uric acid stones – allopurinol (Aloprim, Zyloprim) including an alkalizing agent in certain cases;
- Struvite stones – long-term use of antibiotics in small doses, and
- Cystine stones – your doctor might recommend that you consume more fluids so that you produce more urine. Moreover, if that alone does not aid, your doctor can also prescribe a drug that decreases the amounts of cystine in the urine.
When to visit a doctor
See your doctor if you have any symptoms that worry you. You need to seek immediate medical attention if you have:
- Severe and huge pain
- Pain accompanied by vomiting and nausea
- Pain accompanied by chills and fever
- Difficulties passing urine
- Blood in the urine
Passing kidney stones can be pretty painful, but the stones generally cause no permanent damages. Depending on the situation, you might need nothing more than to take drink plenty of water and pain medication to pass your kidney stones. In other cases — for example, if the stone become lodged in your urinary tract or cause great complications — surgery may be required. In order to prevent this disorder, you need to reduce the intake of oxalate-rich foods, salt, avoid diets that are low in protein and animal fat and last but not least, you need to drink more water.
Your doctor can recommend preventive treatments to reduce your risk of renal lithiasis if you are at increased risk of developing this condition.