Kidney Stones Becoming More Common: What Can You Do About It?
Kidney stones are known for causing extreme pain. Passing a stone can feel like “giving birth to a porcupine,” according to a quote on the AARP’s website. Recent reports say that kidney stones are becoming more common, although the reasons why aren’t clear. What are kidney stones and is there a way to prevent them from forming in the first place?
Kidney Stones 101
A kidney stone is a solid mass formed of crystals. They typically get their start within the kidney but can develop at any place along the urinary tract, such as the ureters, urethra or bladder. There are four main types of kidney stones, each created by different kinds of crystals.
- Calcium stones. This type is the kind most often seen by doctors. They can be composed of calcium oxalate; many foods are high in calcium oxalate, and reducing your intake of them can lower your risk of getting this type of kidney stone. Oxalate-rich foods include swiss chard, spinach, peanuts and potato chips. Calcium stones can also be composed of phosphate or maleate, but calcium oxalate is the most common culprit.
- Uric acid stones. Men tend to suffer from uric acid stones more often than women. This kind of stone forms when the urine is acidic. Foods that contain purines can promote acidic urine. That substance is found in animal protein like beef, fish, and shellfish.
- Struvite stones. This type of mass is usually the result of a kidney infection and is most often seen in women with urinary tract infections (UTIs). If an infection is left untreated for too long, these stones can form. That’s one more reason why it’s important to treat any infections promptly.
- Cystine stones. This type of mass is the result of a genetic disorder, and it’s the least common type of kidney stone.
Who gets kidney stones?
There is a range of risk factors for developing kidney stones. Women are more likely to get them than men. If you’ve had stones before or have a family history of them, you also have an increased risk of getting kidney stones. Some other risk factors include:
- Dehydration. Make sure to drink plenty of water. According to the Urology Care Foundation, the most significant risk factor for developing kidney stones is generating less than 1 liter of urine each day. You can up that amount by drinking as much as 12 glasses of water every day.
- High-protein diet. Eating a diet that’s high in animal protein can raise your risk because of the high level of purine in your diet.
- Certain medications. If you take medicines that cause dehydration, such as diuretics, or that throw your calcium levels out of balance, you may have an increased risk of developing a kidney stone.
What are some signs that you have a kidney stone?
Some small stones might pass through your system without causing any symptoms. However, larger stones can cause signs such as:
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chills and fever
- The need to urinate often
When should you see a doctor?
You may not need medical treatment if you have tiny kidney stones and you can manage the pain with over-the-counter pain relievers. However, if you are experiencing fever or chills, that is a sign of a possible infection, and you should seek medical treatment. Severe nausea and vomiting should also be a sign you need medical treatment because you run the risk of experiencing dangerous dehydration.
While kidney stones can be incredibly painful to experience, they usually don’t cause any damage as they pass through your system. However, if a stone gets stuck, it can cause an obstruction that may lead to infection or damage to the kidneys. In general, it’s considered safe to wait about four weeks to allow a stone to pass on its own, but when in doubt, always seek advice from a doctor.