Have you ever experienced a kidney stone or known someone who has? I’ve heard it’s as painful as childbirth, if not worse.
So, what exactly is a kidney stone? A kidney stone is a hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract. They are fairly common in that one in 20 people will develop kidney stones at some point in their life. They form when there’s a decrease in urine volume and/or too much of the stone-forming substance in the urine.
A major risk factor for forming a kidney stone is dehydration. For example, if you do not drink enough water or other fluids, or perhaps perform strenuous exercise without replacing the fluid lost, you will increase the risk of kidney stones. If you have some sort of obstruction to the flow of urine in your body, it can also lead to the formation of kidney stones. Those of you living in a hot and dry climate are more likely to develop kidney stones due to a higher risk of dehydration.
Symptoms of a kidney stone include severe pain in your side and blood in your urine. The pain is usually sudden and excruciating. You can also experience cramping in your lower back and/or side, groin, or abdomen. The pain does not subside even when you change positions, and it can be so severe that it can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. If you also have a urinary tract infection along with the stones, you may experience chills and a fever. You may also experience difficulty urinating, feeling like you have to urinate even when you don’t need to go, and men may experience penile or testicular pain.
Other health factors can also increase your changes of developing stones.
- Certain medical conditions will increase your risk:
- Diet and hereditary factors are also related to stone formation:
- High intake of animal protein
- High-salt diet
- Excessive sugar consumption
- Excessive vitamin D supplementation
- High doses of Vitamin C (1 gram or more daily)
- Excessive intake of spinach.
Most stones develop in people 20 to 49 years of age. And, for those who have already had more than one kidney stone , you are more prone to developing further stones.
How are stones diagnosed and treated?
The best way to diagnose kidney stones is via ultrasound, intravenous pyleography (IVP), or a CT scan. Most kidney stones will pass through your body on their own time and usually within 48 hours, with plenty of fluids. During this time and in addition to drinking fluids, treatment includes medication (such as Acetaminophen and in some cases a narcotic pain medication) to control pain. When stones do not pass on their own, a procedure called lithotripsy (where ultrasound shock waves break the stones into small particles that can be passed out by the body), or other surgical procedures, are used.
It is best to avoid kidney stones in the first place when possible. It can be especially helpful to drink more water, since low fluid intake and dehydration are major risk factors for kidney stone formation.
The National Kidney Foundation advises people with kidney disease, people who are on dialysis, and people who have received a kidney transplant to avoid all herbal supplements. The foundation also warns that some minerals, like potassium, may be present in supplements in which you may not expect them, like turmeric rhizome, evening primrose, noni and garlic leaf can all contain potassium.
Depending on the cause of the kidney stones and your medical history, changes in the diet or medications are sometimes recommended to decrease the likelihood of developing further kidney stones. If you have passed a stone, it can be particularly helpful to have it analyzed in a laboratory to determine the precise type of stone so specific prevention measures can be considered.
Sources: Medicine Net and the National Kidney Foundation.