Preventing Kidney Stones

The Problem of Kidney Stones

The incidence of kidney stones is rising in the US so it is important to live a healthy lifestyle to help prevent kidney stones. According to the National Kidney Foundation, half a million people go to the emergency room, every year, for kidney stones. One in ten in the US will have a kidney stone in their lifetime. The risk for a stone is about 11% in men and 9% in women. Many obesity-related health conditions are risk factors for kidney stones.

Are You at Risk?

Professional drivers and others in other professions that have impediments to hydrating enough or accessing restroom facilities are at a higher risk of developing kidney stones. Low urine volume, caused by dehydration, is one of the main causes of kidney stones. Dehydration leads to more salt in the urine which can bind together forming stones. White men are more prone to kidney stones. Those with a family history, are also more likely to develop stones. Diets high in animal products, consuming large amounts of vitamins like C and calcium, and taking medications like antacids and diuretics, are other contributing factors. Medical conditions like obesity, diabetes, bowel disorders like Crohn’s or Ulcerative colitis, gout, and various kidney disorders can also lead to kidney stones. Studies also indicate that following a ketogenic diet has been linked to kidney stones.

What are Kidney Stones?

Kidney Stones are masses, the size of pebbles, that are formed when urine contains too many minerals and salts. These extra deposits bond together to create stones, which can go undetected at best, or cause severe pain at worst. Stones can be tiny, like a grain of sand, or larger, like the size of a pea. They may be smooth or jagged. When treated by a medical professional, kidney stones rarely cause long-term damage. Prompt medical attention is encouraged if you suspect you have a kidney stone. Untreated kidney stones can cause severe pain, loss of kidney function, blood in the urine, and urinary tract infections including kidney infections.

Prevention is the best medicine. Maintaining a healthy weight, drinking plenty of water daily, eating a healthy diet, and exercising regularly, are all basic prevention principles.

Lifestyle Tips to Help Prevent Kidney Stones:

  • Drink more water; drink ½ your body weight in fluid ounces every day.
  • Limit your intake of animal products.
  • Reduce the amount of salt you consume. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg a day with an ideal limit of no more than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure. Read labels; processed foods contain high amounts of sodium even if they are labeled “healthy” “all-natural” or “organic”.
  • Eat citrus fruits, especially lemons! Lemons contain citrate which is a salt in citric acid that binds to calcium and helps to prevent kidney stone formation. (Harvard Health).  Squeeze a lemon into your water every day.
  • Include calcium in your diet. The best sources are dairy products such as yogurt, milk, and cheeses. Non-dairy sources include dark green veggies, dried peas, beans, sardines (fish with bones), and other calcium-fortified food sources. Calcium is most easily absorbed in the form of Calcium Citrate. Vitamin D (which we get from the sun!) helps your body to utilize calcium appropriately.
  • Don’t overdo it with Vitamin C supplements. Get your Vitamin C from whole food sources such as oranges or red bell peppers.
  • Understand how medications increase the risk. Ask your doctor for any drug interactions that could raise your risk.
  • Avoid foods that contribute to stones: Nuts, tea, spinach, chocolate, and beets are high in oxalates; ask your doctor if you have suffered from kidney stones before to find out if you should limit them.
  • Exercise! Even light exercise can help. One study found that any type of light exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones in women by 31%.   
  • Manage Stress: When coupled with dehydration, unmanaged stress can increase your risk of kidney stones.  Stress raises blood pressure and blood sugar, putting excess stress on your kidneys

See Your Doctor!

If you suspect you have a kidney stone, it is important to contact your doctor immediately. Prompt medical attention can prevent severe pain, infection, and even kidney issues. Some kidney stones are passed painlessly. Other stones cause severe pain as they try to pass through the urinary tract. If you suspect a kidney stone, contact your doctor as soon as possible. A doctor may perform a CT scan or an ultrasound to visualize the stone. A urinalysis can detect blood in the urine or the presence of an infection. Blood tests may also be performed. After performing the basic blood tests, urinalysis and scans, your doctor will determine the course of treatment. For smaller stones (less than 10 mm), that may pass on their own, NSAIDs may be offered to relieve the pain. There are medications that may be prescribed to help you pass the stone. Non-invasive, shockwave therapy is another option to help break the stone into smaller pieces so they can pass on their own. Other more invasive treatment options are used for larger stones that cannot be treated as mentioned above.

Symptoms of a Kidney Stone include:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills
  • Frequent urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Odor or cloudiness in urine
  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pain in the lower abdomen or groin
  • Sharp pain on the side or back
  • Pain that starts suddenly and comes in wavesStay Hydrated

Kidney stones are common, especially in those with risk factors. Living a healthy lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and staying well hydrated, can help reduce your risk of developing a stone. If you suspect you have a stone, contact your doctor immediately. For those with a history of kidney stones, work with your doctor to develop a preventative strategy to lower your risk.

by Christy Coughlin (edited)