We Know: All About Kidney Stones

What is a kidney stone?

A kidney stone occurs when urine becomes so concentrated that minerals precipitate out of solution and come together to form a mass in the kidney or the ureter. According to the National Kidney Foundation, kidney stones are a common occurrence: 5% of all women have kidney stones, while 10% of all men are diagnosed with kidney stones. Kidney stones are tiny crystals that may look like grains of salt or like a pearl in larger form. The stones can be yellow or brown, and smooth or jagged in appearance. Another name for the kidney stone is renal calculus.

What causes kidney stones?

The kidneys are all about balance, and kidney stones form when things are out of balance. The kidney purifies all blood that passes through it by filtering out the waste and impurities. The cleaned blood is sent back into circulation through the renal veins. The waste products and impurities are eliminated from the kidney through urine. The urine is stored in the bladder until it is excreted from the body. The balance between the salt and fluid concentrations in the body enables waste products to be eliminated from the body.

Kidney stones form when urine becomes too concentrated with salts and other metabolic by-products. The salts or mineral products precipitate out of solution when there is low urine content. They aggregate around foreign particles such as bacterial clumps, tiny blood clots, or degenerate tissue. As the particle's get bigger, the surface area increases and more minerals are attracted to the clump's surface. When the stone gets so big that it impeded the flow of urine, it can lead to infections and painful spasms, which is known as renal colic.

Higher mineral concentrations and low urine or fluid content creates the kidney stone.

What type of kidney stones are there?

There are four types of kidney stones:

  • Calcium stones - comprises 75% of all kidney stones.
    • Formed from calcium and oxalate.
    • Oxalate is a metabolic by-product. Oxalate comes from the consumption of large amounts of protein, excess vitamin C, and as a metabolic waste from spinach, rhubarb, some berries, tea, caffeine, nuts, etc.
  • Uric Acid Stones - 10% of all kidney stones.
    • Formed out of large amounts of uric acid.
    • Uric acid comes from the consumption of large amounts of animal protein with low urine volume.
    • Other causes are gout, chronic diarrhea, and binge eating.
  • Struvite - 10% of all kidney stones.
    • These stones start from infections that cause mineral build-up.
    • Common in women with urinary tract infections, individual with paralysis, or those with abnormal urinary tracts.
  • Cystine - less than 1%.
    • Due to a hereditary metabolic disorder.

What are the symptoms of a kidney stone?

Often there is no pain associated with kidney stones, and they pass through in urine. However, when the kidney stone gets stuck in the ureter, bladder, or urethra, intense pain in the lower back and in the flank occurs, and may be accompanied by one or more of these symptoms:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Increased urination
  • Urine smells or urine is an abnormal color
  • Painful urination, burning when urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Testicular pain
  • Fever
  • Chills

How does one treat a kidney stone?

Once a person has had a kidney stone, the kidney stones are likely to recur. Most treatment methods comprise of methods that treat and prevent the recurrence of kidney stones. Normally, most kidney stones are eliminated when they pass through urine. Doctors recommend drinking 6 to 8 glasses of fluids per day to increase the urine concentration. Over the counter pain medication may be taken, or a narcotic pain reliever may be prescribed by a doctor for more severe pain. Doctors may also recommend medications that break up the kidney stone.

If the kidney stones are not able to pass through urine, surgery may be necessary to remove the stone.

How can one prevent kidney stones?

Today's richer diets mean the likelihood of getting a kidney stone also increases. Drinking at least 12 glasses of water per day prevents the occurrence of kidney stones. Ginger ale, lemon-lime sodas such as 7Up and Sprite, or fruit juices may be substituted, but water is best. Coffee and cola drinkers should limit their intake of these beverages to 1 to 2 cups daily. Limiting foods that form oxalate as a by product means that less meat should be consumed.

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