Roughly half a million people – both men and women – will head to the emergency room this year for issues related to kidney stones. A Baylor College of Medicine expert discusses symptoms, treatments and prevention of kidney stones.
What are Kidney Stones?
“Kidney stones are hard crystalline deposits that are made from the chemicals in urine, and the size can range from a grain of sand to a golf ball,” said Dr. Wesley Mayer, assistant professor of urology at Baylor. He explains that urolithiasis, or kidney stones, is a catchall term used to indicate stones that may be located anywhere in the urinary tract, including the kidney, bladder or ureter.
One of the most common signs of kidney stones is pain, ranging from mild to extreme. Areas of pain can be variable and can include the front and side of your lower torso, your back, beneath or below your ribs, groin, pelvis, and reproductive organs. The most common pattern, however, is pain that radiates from the back to the groin.
Other symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Painful urination, urgency, frequency and pelvic pressure
- Blood in your urine
- Fever (see your doctor or an emergency room immediately if fever is accompanied by urinary tract obstruction)
- Nausea or vomiting
Tests and Treatments
If you are experiencing the symptoms above, consult your doctor. Imaging methods to test for kidney stones include CT scan, ultrasound and X-ray.
Some urine and blood tests can be used to determine whether you have too much of a particular substance, such as calcium or uric acid in your blood or urine, which can cause kidney stones.
There are multiple treatment options. One is passing the stone through urination, but there are a few points you must ensure before attempting this:
- Good renal function
- No infections
- Well-controlled pain
- Reasonable likelihood of spontaneous stone passage
- Able to keep down liquids without vomiting
If you do not pass the checkpoints, you may need surgery to remove the stone. If you have a small stone (less than 1.5 to 2 centimeters), there is shockwave or laser lithotripsy, which breaks up the stone with shockwaves or lasers so the pieces can then be removed. If you have a bigger stone (more than 1.5 to 2 centimeters), there is PCNL (percutaneous lithotomy), a minimally-invasive procedure that allows access to the kidney directly through a small incision in the back and breaks the stone into smaller pieces to be vacuumed out.
Causes and Prevention
According to Dr. Mayer, some medicines can increase the risk of stone formation, including high-dose Vitamin C, Airborne, Emergen-C and Topomax (migraine relief medicine), among others. There also are common dietary causes such as an excessive amount of salt and animal protein consumption, processed foods, underconsumption of fruits and vegetables, and being dehydrated. Make sure to stay hydrated by drinking at least 80-100 fluid ounces of water a day.
Other important tips regarding prevention include:
- Drink lemon water to help reduce the risk of developing kidney stones.
- Don’t cut out calcium-rich foods but talk to your doctor before taking a calcium supplement.
- Consume salt, animal protein and processed food in moderation; target less than 3,000 milligrams of sodium per day. Read food labels to help stay on track.