Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals that form inside the kidneys due to a lack of fluids to dissolve them. In the general course, our kidneys function effectively to filter the waste and fluid out of our bodies through urine; however, when the natural process is disturbed and there is excessive waste and simultaneous lack of fluids to dissolve it, it leads to the creation of hard mass that appear like stones in kidneys. A kidney stone is formed when excessive minerals build up in the urine because of a lack of hydration. These stones can vary greatly in size – these could be the size of a kernel, corn or grain of salt and are often very painful. However, in several cases, the stone might go unnoticed for a long period of time until it starts to stir inside the kidney and move towards the ureter. These stones are brown, yellowish in colour and are soft and hard in texture.
Kidney stones are created when the levels of minerals such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid are very high in the urine and they tend to accumulate over time due to lack of fluids to dissolve them properly.
That said, some of the factors that cause kidney stones or increase the risk of kidney stones are:
- Lack of water
- Excessively rich diet of protein, sugar or sodium
- History of kidney stones
- Family history of kidney stones
- Past record of gastric bypass or intestinal surgery
- Kidney disease such as polycystic or cystic
- Irritation in bowel or joints
- Digestive problems
- Medical conditions
A small stone might pass through the urinary tract, sometimes on its own or through little medical help. However, in cases where the stone size is relatively big, surgery may be the only solution. Kidney stones in general cases are extremely painful and cause a lot of discomfort.
Thus, the best way to manage this problem is to avoid the problem on the whole – prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Prevention of Kidney Stones
It is easy to prevent the formation of kidney stones by making some adjustments in the diet, as well as everyday living.
Staying hydrated: The formation of kidney stones happens basically because of lack of fluids to dissolve the accumulated minerals. Hence, the core to prevent the problem is to drink a lot of water to ensure there is proper dissolution of the minerals in the body. On a general level, a normal person should consume 8 litres of water on a daily basis. Moreover, for people who sweat a lot, additional intake of water needs to be included. Lack of water results in low urine output, causing accumulation of urine salts, leading to the formation of stones.
Eating a calcium-rich diet: Excess calcium does not cause the formation of stones, instead, a calcium-rich diet including items such as low-fat milk, cheese, and yogurt is known to prevent the formation of stones.
Reducing sodium intake: Excess salt prevents the calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood, leading to a heavy concentration of calcium in the urine and the formation of kidney stones. Avoid food such as processed items, canned soups, canned vegetables, and condiments.
Reduce oxalate-rich foods: Foods such as spinach, chocolate, sweet potatoes, coffee, peanuts, wheat bran, etc. are naturally rich in oxalate. A large intake of these foods can cause excessive oxalate to combine with calcium in the urine to form stones
Avoid animal protein: Animal protein such as beef, poultry, fish and pork might get acidic in the body, thereby increasing the concentration of urine acid that causes uric acid and calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Avoiding vitamin C supplements: Only vitamin C naturally present in the food is permitted for the body. Other than that vitamin c supplements can cause kidney stones.
Moreover, on the advice of the doctor, you can also take some preventive medications for stones.
Treatment for Kidney Stones
The treatment for kidney stones depends on factors – the size of the stone, the composition of stone, and whether or not it is causing pain or blocking the urinary tract. To know the accurate answer to these questions, the doctor will ask you to get some tests including urine test, blood test, CT scan or X-ray. Once, the results of the tests are clear, the doctor will suggest any of the following options as a course of treatment:
- If the stone is small and has negligible symptoms, the doctor will ask you to wait for a period of at least 2-4 weeks for the kidney stone to pass on its own by drinking excess water.
- The doctor might suggest pain killers and would ask you to allow the stone to pass through on their own.
- The last resort is surgery, provided the intensity of the pain is too much and there seems to be a possible infection due to the kidney stones. That said, the doctor might recommend any of the following procedures:
- Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL): In this treatment, high-energy sound waves are used to break the stones into small particles to enable the kidney stones to pass through easily on their own.
- Ureteroscopy: In this course, a thin, flexible tube is inserted through the urethra, bladder and into the ureter to reach the stone and break it through laser (if it is too big) or remove the stone (if it is small or medium in size).
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy or Percutaneous Nephrolithotripsy: This course of treatment is opted when the other treatments fail to break the stone. In this surgery, a thin tube is inserted through the skin to reach the stone, which is then removed or broken.
- Open Surgery: The last resort of treatment, if the kidney stone is overtly big or cannot be removed through any other course. In this method, the doctor will make an incision on your side to reach the kidney stone and take it out through the opening.
Each case is different and so accordingly, the course of treatment varies. Hence, it is very critical to identify symptoms and consult your doctor well before deciding on a treatment method. Moreover, it is important to know ways to prevent kidney stones in the future.