by Kimberly Allen, RN
Kidney stones are one of the most common conditions affecting the urinary system. In fact people in the US make over 1 million visits to their Dr’s office as well as over 300,000 visits to the emergency room for kidney stones every year. Anyone can develop a kidney stone at anytime, however, they are more common in adults 40 years of age or older and they are also more common in men than women, though recent research indicates the incidence in women has been increasing. If you have a family history of kidney stones chances are you’ll develop them as well. People that are obese or suffer from certain other medical conditions are also more prone to kidney stones.
Kidney stones develop when there is an alteration in the balance between water, minerals and salts as well as other substances in your urine. The leading cause of kidney stones is dehydration, in other words not drinking enough fluids. Certain medical conditions like gout promotes the formation of kidney stones. There are four major types of kidney stones. The most common type of kidney stones are calcium stones. Calcium stones are almost always composed of calcium oxalate which is a substance that occurs naturally in many foods. Certain foods like chocolate and nuts as well as certain fruits and vegetables are high in calcium oxalate. There are several factors that can increase the amount of calcium oxalate in your urine. Kidney stones that develop in response to an infection are called struvite stones. This type of kidney stone can increase in size rapidly and they can get quite large. People that don’t drink enough liquids or eat a high protein diet as well as those with gout tend to develop uric acid stones. People that have a hereditary disorder in which the kidneys excrete too much cystinuria, a particular amino acid, develop cystine stones.
In many cases, a stone doesn’t cause symptoms while it’s in the kidney. It’s when the stone decides to move from the kidney to your bladder through the tiny tube called the ureter that you usually experience symptoms. The most common symptoms is sudden, severe pain in your lower back or side. the pain tends to come in waves and varies in severity, it also tends to spread to your lower abdomen as well as your groin area. many people with kidney stones also complain of pain when they urinate. You may also notice a discoloration in your urine, it may be pinkish to red or even brown. It could be cloudy and/or have a foul odor. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting and if there is an infection you may also have a fever and chills.
Treatment for kidney stones depends on the type and size of the stone as well as the severity of symptoms and whether or not they are causing an obstruction in your urinary tract. In most cases kidney stones can be treated at home by increasing your water intake to 2 to 3 quarts a day to aide in flushing our your urinary system. Your doctor may also recommend over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen for the pain. If needed there is also a medicine called an alpha blocker that helps you pass the stone by relaxing the muscles in the ureter. For people suffering from stones that are too large to pass on their own your doctor may recommend more invasive therapy. The most common therapy used today is the use of sound waves in a procedure known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy or ESWL. In this procedure sound waves are used to create strong vibrations which break the kidney stone into tiny pieces. Once the large stone has been broken into pieces it is able to pass out of your body in your urine. If the stone is really large or if ESWL was unsuccessful your Dr may recommend a surgical procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy. This procedure requires that you stay in the hospital for a day or two to recover. If the stone is smaller but you are unable to pass it, your doctor may recommend the use of a ureterscope to locate and remove the stone.
Knowing the type of kidney stone you have is important in helping you to prevent future kidney stones. Probably the single most important thing you can do to prevent kidney stones is to drink sufficient water. If you live in a warm climate or exercise frequently you will need to drink more water. Choosing a diet that has fewer oxalate rich foods, as well as being lower in animal protein and salt can also help prevent kidney stones.
The Natural Way to Treat and Prevent Kidney Stones
If you’re one of the more than a million Americans that have had a kidney stone you know how excruciatingly painful they can be and do not want another. However, unfortunately approximately 70% of those that have had a kidney stone will have another. Even if you’ve never had a kidney stone you know it’s not something you want to experience. So how can you prevent kidney stones? The single most important thing you can do is to stay hydrated. Drinking at least 6 to 8 glasses of water every day, more if you live in a hot dry climate or exercise often is the best way to stay hydrated. Your urine should be a clear, pale yellow color, if you notice it’s getting darker yellow you need to increase your fluids.
After hydration comes your diet. there a number of adjustments that you can make to your diet that can prevent the formation of kidney stones. A diet that is highly acidic produces an environment that promotes the formation of kidney stones, while a diet that is more alkaline discourages a pro kidney stone environment. Certain foods like coffee, sodas and alcohol as well as foods that contain corn syrup have an acidic effect. There are also certain fruits and vegetables that have an acidic effect while others have a more alkaline effect.
Decreasing your sodium intake can also significantly reduce your chances of developing kidney stones. Sodium causes the kidneys to expel more calcium in your urine. When there are large amounts of calcium in your urine it combines with both oxalate and phosphorous to form stones. According to the Department of Agriculture, Americans consume an average of 3,400 mgs of sodium, but the recommended daily allowance is only 2,300mgs. The more sodium you consume the greater your chances of developing a kidney stone. One of the best ways to limit your sodium intake is learn to read labels. All food labels tell you the amount of sodium as well as other nutrients that are in that particular product. Limiting or avoiding foods such as lunch meats and hot dogs as well as canned vegetables and soups can significantly reduce the sodium in your diet.
Many people don’t realize that the consumption of processed or simple sugars has been associated with the formation of kidney stones. Simple sugars interfere with the absorption of calcium and magnesium altering the mineral balance in your body. This can lead to the development of calcium crystals in your urine. Consuming too much sugar also increase the production of insulin which increases the amount of calcium going through your kidneys. Eliminating or significantly reducing the amount of processed sugar in your diet can help you prevent kidney stones.
For years experts have said that animal protein has a significant effect on the formation of kidney stones, however, most studies have shown that there is no difference in people with low or normal protein diets and the formation of kidney stones. Most experts agree that the increased incidence of kidney stones is most likely due to an increase in foods made with artificial sweeteners and coloring as well as high fructose corn syrup and beverages loaded with sugar and other chemical additives. Therefore eating organic foods and avoiding any genetically modified foods can also help you prevent kidney stones.
There are also a variety of herbal remedies that have been effective in preventing and dissolving kidney stones. In fact, goldenrod is so effective in dissolving kidney stones that in countries where herbal medicine is more widely accepted, like Germany, it a recommended treatment for kidney stones. Other herbal remedies for dissolving stones include a tea made with fresh corn silk and marshmallow herb. this tea can also help prevent urinary tract infections. An herb called chanca peidra that can be found in the Amazon rainforest inhibits the formation of calcium oxalate crystals and has been used for years in South America to treat both kidney stones as well as gallstones. Other herbs know to prevent the formation of kidney stones includes meadowsweet, joe-pye weed, sarsaparilla and plantain because they help remove excess uric acid from your kidneys.
Most of these herbs can be found in your local health food store or on line. Always be sure to research any new herbs and consult with your doctor if you are currently taking any medications before trying any herbal remedies.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.