Kidney stones are solid, pebble-like masses that develop in the urinary tract from salt and minerals that have clumped together in the urine. The process, called urolithiasis, can result in either a small stone that is simply passed during urination or a larger stone that can block a ureter (one of two tubes which propel urine from the kidney).
When a blockage occurs, a person can experience often excruciating pain radiating from the back and sides to the pelvis, groin, and genital areas. In addition to this pain, there are several other common symptoms including:
- Loss of appetite
- Urinary Urgency
- Intense burning when you try to urinate
- Fever and chills
- Blood in your urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cloudy urine or urine that smells bad
Most kidney stones form as a result of both genetic and environmental factors. Men are more prone to kidney stones than women, as are people between the ages of 30 and 60. Other risk factors include:
- Low dietary magnesium
- High sodium intake
- Drinking fluoridated water
- High urine calcium levels
- Dehydration or not drinking enough fluids
- Family history of kidney stones
- Diets that are high in animal proteins
- Taking excessive calcium, vitamin C, or vitamin D supplements
- Excessive parathyroid activity
There are several types of kidney stones, each of which is linked to various biological, environmental, genetic, and dietary reasons.
Calcium stones are the most common type. They are seen usually in postmenopausal women who take excessive calcium and vitamin D supplements.
- Uric acid stones occur in people with high urine acidity (as can happen with gout).
- Struvite stones tend to develop as a result of infection.
- Cystine stones are rare and tend to run in families.
There are several schools of thought regarding the treatment of kidney stones. Oftentimes, decisions are based on the size and location of the stone. Specialist training and experience will also direct which course of action a urologist will likely take.
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a technique that uses a specialized machine to break up a stone from outside of your body, allowing you to pass the stone more simply. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) involves inserting a tube through a small incision to help drain the kidney.
A ureteroscope is a small, tube-like instrument equipped with a camera, and it can be inserted into the urethra (the opening through which urine is expelled from the body) to either manually extract the stone or break it into tiny pieces.
Whether you’ve had them in the past or are at risk for developing them, there are plenty of helpful measures you can take to try to prevent kidney stones.
- Avoid drinking more than one to two cups of caffeinated beverage per day.
- Restrict your intake of cola or any drink that contains phosphoric acid.
- Eat less animal protein and refined sugars.
- Raise your natural intake of citric acid, particularly from lemon or lime juice.
- Avoid foods containing high fructose corn syrup.
- Avoid excessive vitamin C supplementation.
- For calcium stones, restricting your salt intake
- Drink more water to continually flush out the urinary tract.
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