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How to Avoid Kidney Stones

 Think you are at risk for a kidney stone? Time to talk to your doctor…

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The pain of a kidney stone has been described by patients as “agonizing,” “terrible,” and like a “sharp thin blade or knitting needles” in the abdomen.

Kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. They can be quite painful or painless. It varies from patient to patient. They are common, but some people are more at risk to develop them than others. Having risk factors for kidney stones can contribute to their forming, but they can also help patients learn to prevent them.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are small, hard stones made of minerals and acid salts that form in the kidneys. They often form when urine becomes concentrated and the minerals and salts are able to crystallize and stick together.

Kidney stones typically do not cause any problems until they drop into the ureter and cause a blockage. Urine flows from the kidneys to the bladder through the ureter.

How do I know if I have one?

Sometimes patients who have a small kidney stone may not even notice any symptoms because it passes without growing larger. But larger stones may cause pain, nausea or blood in the urine. You should call your doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • Blood in urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Extreme back pain, between the chest and hips, that won’t go away
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Pain with urination

How are kidney stones treated?

Once your doctor has diagnosed you with kidney stones, she or he needs to determine the type of kidney stone you have in order to recommend treatment. Small stones typically do not need treatment, but if a large stone is causing a blockage, your doctor or nephrologist may need to remove it. These treatments vary depending on the size and location of the stone. They include:

Ureteroscopy

In this procedure, a flexible scope is passed through the urethra into the bladder and the stone is removed.

Lithotripsy

This procedure is sometimes called Extracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy. It uses ultrasound to break up a large stone into smaller stones so they can either be passed or removed with ureteroscopy.

Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy

In this procedure an incision is made in the kidney to remove a stone that cannot be removed any other way.

How can I prevent kidney stones from forming?

Some of the risk factors for kidney stones are out of an individual’s control. They include:

  • Gender and age.
    • Kidney stones are a higher risk for men ages 30 to 50. Postmenopausal women with low estrogen levels and women who have had their ovaries removed also face an increased risk..
  • Family history of kidney stones
  • Intestinal surgery or gastric bypass surgery
  • Insulin resistance, caused by obesity or diabetes
  • Personal history of urinary tract infections
  • Other diseases and conditions
    • Patients who have Crohn’s disease, hyperparathyroidism, or gout face a higher risk for kidney stones.

While these risk factors cannot be controlled, there are also a number of risk factors that can be controlled by patients. They include:

Hydration

Not drinking enough water is one of the most common causes contributing to kidney stones. Try to drink about 8 to 10 glasses of water a day.

Weight

Controlling your weight and lowering your waist size and BMI (body mass index) to a healthy level can reduce your risk. Being overweight or obese can cause more calcium in the blood and insulin resistance, which can both contribute to kidney stones.

Certain diets

Making sure your diet is healthy and balanced, and not too high in protein, salt, and sugar, can reduce your risk. You may want to contact a registered dietitian to help you review your food choices and develop a healthy menu.

Medicines

Certain medications, including acetazolamide and indinavir can cause kidney stones to develop.

If you have already had kidney stones, you can help prevent them from forming by knowing what kind of kidney stone you had. There are a number of types of kidney stones:

  • Calcium Oxalate Stones
  • Calcium Phosphate Stones
  • Uric Acid Stones

They may suggest specific changes in medication and lifestyle to help you avoid more kidney stones from developing.

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. Seeing a urologist or nephrologist in a timely manner and modifying your lifestyle changes, especially through diet, can prevent formation of new stones and can improve your quality of life.

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