Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Common Yet Painful Problem

I ran into a high school friend while grocery shopping at Wal-Mart tonight. I noticed she was in pain. When I asked her about it, she said she had kidney stones.  Although I have never had them myself, I have heard they can be quite painful.  Thinking about this has prompted me to read up on the causes and treatment of this common yet painful problem.


The following information was gathered from The Mayo Clinic website.  Direct quotes are in italic.


Kidney stones (renal lithiasis) are small, hard deposits that form inside your kidneys, made up of minerals and acid salts.  The most common cause is when urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together. 

Pain! The pain of a kidney stone typically starts in your side or back, just below your ribs, and moves to your lower abdomen and groin. The pain may change as the kidney stone moves through your urinary tract.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain on urination
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present

Did you know there is more than one type of kidney stone? 

  • Calcium stones. Most kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. High oxalate levels can be found in some fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and chocolate. Your liver also produces oxalate. Dietary factors, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and several different metabolic disorders can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine. Calcium stones may also occur in the form of calcium phosphate.
  • Struvite stones. Struvite stones form in response to an infection, such as a urinary tract infection. Struvite stones can grow quickly and become quite large.
  • Uric acid stones. Uric acid stones can form in people who are dehydrated, those who eat a high-protein diet and those with gout. Certain genetic factors and disorders of the blood-producing tissues also may predispose you to uric acid stones.
  • Cystine stones. These stones represent only a small percentage of kidney stones. They form in people with a hereditary disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete excessive amounts of certain amino acids (cystinuria).
  • Other stones. Other, rarer types of kidney stones can occur.


For small stones, drinking lots of water will help the stones to pass. This too can be painful so OTC pain relievers are recommended.

For larger stones, treatments can vary from sound waves, surgery and the use of a scope. For more information regarding this, click here.

Since I’ve never had kidney stones, I am most interested in prevention.  Here’s what the Mayo Clinic suggests:

  • Drink water throughout the day. Drink more water throughout the day. For people with a history of kidney stones, doctors usually recommend passing about 2.6 quarts (2.5 liters) of urine a day. Your doctor may ask that you measure your urine output to ensure that you're drinking enough water. People who live in hot, dry climates and those who exercise frequently may need to drink even more water to produce enough urine.
  • Eat fewer oxalate-rich foods. If you tend to form calcium oxalate stones, your doctor may recommend restricting foods rich in oxalates. These include rhubarb, beets, okra, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, tea, chocolate and soy products.


  • Choose a diet low in salt and animal protein. Reduce the amount of salt you eat and choose nonanimal protein sources, such as nuts and legumes. This may help reduce your chance of developing kidney stones.
  • Continue eating calcium-rich foods, but use caution with calcium supplements. The calcium in the food you eat doesn't have an effect on your risk of kidney stones. Continue eating calcium-rich foods unless your doctor advises otherwise. Ask your doctor before taking calcium supplements, though, as these have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones. You may reduce the risk by taking supplements with meals.

Although Mayo Clinic says there is no alternative treatment proven to cure or prevent kidney stones, says otherwise.  You may want to check it out if you are interested in natural ways to prevent and treat kidney stones.

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