Kidney stones are hard masses of tiny crystals formed due to excessive accumulation of certain minerals in the body and lack of fluids to dissolve the minerals. These minerals include calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. When the concentration of these minerals in the body exceeded a certain level and there is not enough presence of fluids to dissolve these minerals – stones are formed. Apart from this, some other factors such as poor diet, severe diarrhoea, excessive weight, family history or certain medicines can also cause the formation of kidney stones.
Kidney stones are brown or yellow in colour and have a smooth as well as a rough texture. These can be the size of sand, gravel, pearl or even bigger and is usually painful since it blocks the flow of urine. In some cases, people do not even realize the presence of kidney stones unless they start to stir and move up the ureter causing discomfort and pain.
Some of the common symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Extreme pain in the back
- Extreme pain below the ribs
- Pain while urinating
- Increased urination
- Cloudy, discoloured or foul-smelling pee
- Pain in the groin or lower abdomen
- Intense stomach ache
- High fever
- Shivering and chills
Even though, kidney stones are common in people of ages and gender, it is still possible to prevent it and reduce the pain from the right treatment.
Prevention of Kidney Stones
A few adjustments in the diet and lifestyle can go a long way in preventing the formation of kidney stones in the body. Some of the basic steps include:
Drinking a lot of water: The most effective way to prevent the formation of stones is to drink enough fluids especially water to ensure there is a proper dissolution of the minerals in the body. A person must drink 8 litres of water or enough water to pass two litres of urine on a daily basis. For people who sweat more, additional intake of water needs to be included. Lack of water implies low urine output which leads to the accumulation of urine salts that cause stones. You can also include lemon water and orange juice in your diet since they contain citrate which is known to prevent stones.
Eating a calcium-rich diet: Calcium-rich foods such as low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt are known to prevent the formation of stones, contrary to the belief that excess calcium results in stones of calcium oxalate. Moreover, calcium supplements with food are also helpful in this case.
Avoiding sodium intake: Foods that have high sodium content are known to trigger the formation of stone since excess salt prevents the calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood, leading to an excess concentration of calcium in the urine and formation of kidney stones. Food such as below should be avoided to reduce sodium intake:
- Processed foods
- Canned soups
- Canned vegetables
Limit oxalate-rich foods: Oxalate is naturally found in foods such as spinach, chocolate, sweet potatoes, coffee, peanuts, wheat bran, etc. and excessive oxalate combines with calcium in the urine to form kidney stones. Hence, limiting the intake of oxalate-rich foods helps to reduce the chances of stone formation.
Reduce animal protein: Animal protein in foods such as beef, poultry, fish and pork can become acidic in the body, increasing the concentration of urine acid which then causes uric acid and calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Avoid vitamin C supplements: Vitamin C supplements are known to increase the chances of stones. However, natural vitamin C amount present in food is permissible.
Moreover, on the advice of the doctor, you can also take some preventive medications for stones.
Treatment of Kidney Stones
Some kidney stones go unnoticed and usually pass on their own with little help; however, in many other cases treatment becomes necessary depending on the severity of the symptoms, the size of the stones and the cause of the stones.
A few treatment options for kidney stones are:
Small stones with fewer symptoms
These kinds of stones do not require invasive treatment and can be removed via the following methods:
Drinking lots of water: The doctor might advise you to drink more than 2 litres of water to pass the stone thought urine
Pain Killers: Passing a stone can be very painful and hence, doctors recommend a pain killer to ease the process.
Medication: A doctor might suggest medicines called alpha-blockers that help relax the muscles
in the ureter, enabling the stone to pass through quickly and easily.
Large stones with intense symptoms
Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL): In this method, high-energy sound waves are used to create strong vibrations that aim to break down small or medium size stones into tiny pieces that can be released while urinating. The process is about 60 minutes long, mildly painful, and can cause bruising on the back, blood in urine, bruising on the abdomen, etc.
Ureteroscopy: In this method, a thin, flexible tube with a camera is inserted through the urethra, bladder, and ureter to reach the stone and extract it. In cases of a larger stone, a laser is passed to break it. The doctor might also place a stent (tube) in the ureter to reduce swelling and enhance the healing process.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: In this surgical method, a telescope and other instruments are used to remove a large kidney stone by making an incision on the back. The recovery might take more than 2 days.
Kidney stones might be a very normal health problem today but with proper awareness about its treatment and most importantly prevention, this problem can easily be avoided.