By Aaron Becker, M.D.
Urologist, First Urology
Kidney stones are often considered one of the most painful urologic disorders by those who experience them. And while research has come a long way in understanding the cause and developing treatments for kidney stones, they have still plagued people for centuries. In fact, scientists have even found evidence of kidney stones in a 7,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.
Unfortunately, kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract and they are more common in Kentucky than some other states. Because of its geographic location, residents of Kentucky and other southeastern and southwestern states are at higher risk for developing a kidney stone than people living in other parts of the country. This is due in part to the increased humidity in the climate and higher temperatures, which impact hydration.
Kidney stones are small crystals that form in the urinary tract. They are most commonly made of calcium. Typically, urine contains chemicals that will prevent crystals from forming, but that isn’t the case for everyone.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in ten people will have a kidney stone in their lifetime. The good news is; kidney stones are preventable.
Prevention is key
Once you develop a kidney stone, you are more than 50 percent likely to experience a reoccurrence within 10 years. Long-term, kidney stones can cause permanent kidney damage, serious infection and urinary fistula. Enacting lifestyle changes, some as simple as drinking more water, can help reduce your risk for kidney stones, such as:
- Increasing the amount of fluids you drink
- Eating a low sodium, low protein and low oxalate diet
- Moderate calcium intake
- Avoiding high levels of vitamin C and vitamin D
Signs and symptoms
Kidney stones are more common in men than women and most common among white Americans. A family history of kidney stones and some rare inherited conditions can also increase your risk of developing a kidney stone.
Most kidney stones develop between the ages 30-50, but it is important to note that kidney stones can appear at all ages, even in children.
Signs and symptoms for kidney stones include:
- Side or abdominal pain
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent urination
- Burning sensation during urination
Usually, the first sign is extreme pain when the stone moves in the urinary tract and blocks the flow of urine.
Treatments for kidney stones vary based on the size and location of the stone. Most kidney stones can pass on their own with plenty of liquids. In fact, 95 percent of stones less than 4mm will pass within about 40 days. For these smaller kidney stones, a patient is most commonly treated with pain medication and lots of liquids.
If the stone is too large to pass on its own, or an infection develops, medical intervention, such as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), may be required. ESWL uses shock waves to break up the kidney stone so that it can pass. Other treatments include the placement of a stent, or drainage tube, into the kidney. For larger stones, a procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy may be recommended to remove a stone.
In general, the best tool to diagnose kidney stones is an x-ray. If you experience symptoms of a kidney stone, make an appointment to visit your primary care provider for care.. However, if you experience fever, chills, nausea, vomiting or severe pain, seek care from an emergency physician.
As Kentuckians, we may experience a higher risk of occurrence, but through education and simple lifestyle adjustments, like drinking more water, we can reduce those risks.
Image from: www.nichd.nih.gov
Aaron Becker, MD., is a urologist with First Urology.