There are few medical problems more painful than a kidney stone – in fact, some have likened it to the pain of childbirth. While kidney stones usually don’t cause lasting damage, I guarantee you don’t want to get one. One of our viewers, Steven, asked me what he can do to minimize his chances of getting a kidney stone.
Kidney stones form when certain mineral and acid substances in the urine like calcium, oxalate or phosphorus become too highly concentrated and form hard deposits in the urinary tract. These little “stones” first form in the kidney before traveling down the thin ureters that drain urine from your kidney to your bladder. They then have to pass through the urethra, until they are finally expelled. During this process, they can cause symptoms like pain with urination, blood in the urine, sharp pains in the back, side or abdomen, nausea or vomiting. Some people with very small stones may not even know it.
Kidney stones are more common in men, Caucasians and in overweight and obese people. Certain medical conditions like hyperparathyroidism, hypercalciuria, cystic kidney disease, gout or a family history can also raise risk. There are several different types of kidney stones, the most common of which are calcium oxalate stones, which tend to form when you have high urinary calcium content in alkaline (or basic) urine. About one out of every 10 people in the U.S. will have a kidney stone during his or her lifetime.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing that will guarantee that you will never develop a kidney stone. However, there are certain things you can do to minimize your risk. One major prevention method is to make sure you are drinking enough fluids – health care providers usually recommend at least two to three liters of fluid every day. Stick to low-calorie, healthy choices like water or tea, though certain citrus drinks may also help. Try adding lemon or lime to your water.
To reduce your kidney stone risk, you can also reduce sodium intake and animal proteins and eat fewer foods that are high in oxalate like spinach, rhubarb, nuts and wheat bran. However, some recent research suggests that the DASH diet, which is high in fruits and veggies and low in dairy and animal protein, may be more effective than a low-oxalate diet when it comes to preventing stones.
Many stones will pass on their own, but occasionally other treatments or surgery may be required. If you think you may have a kidney stone, consult your doctor.
March is National Kidney Month. For more information on kidney health and problems, you can visit the National Kidney Foundation’s website.