What are Kidney Stones?
It is estimated that 10% of the population develops a kidney stone at some point in time. In fact, more than 500,000 people go to emergency rooms each year for problems related to kidney stones. The prevalence of kidney stones in the US has been increasing over the past few decades. The prevalence rate was estimated at 3.8% in the late 70s but this rate increased to over 8% in the early 21st century. Most people experience kidney stones after they reach the age of 30 but these may also occur earlier. Various other conditions such as obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure may also increase the risk for these stones, however; there are many health tips and resources that can help.
In simple terms, a kidney stone may be defined as a hard object that is usually made from chemicals in the urine. Urine contains a number of waste products in dissolved state but when there is too much waste product in the liquid, it leads to the formation of crystals. These crystals also attract other elements in the body and all elements join together to create a solid that keeps getting bigger until it is passed out of the body along with urine.
In most cases, the kidney eliminates these chemicals from the body in the urine. In fact, many people stay clear of kidney stones by consuming enough liquid as body washes these stones and other chemicals out through urine and stops stones from forming. The main kidney stone-forming chemicals include calcium, phosphate, urate, oxalate and xanthine among others.
How Do they Cause Pain?
Once the stone is formed, it may stay in the kidney or get down into the ureter. Sometimes, tiny stones do not cause much pain and move out of the body through urine. However, bigger stones that do not move due to some reason may lead to a build up of urine in the bladder, ureter or kidney. This is what leads to pain due to kidney stones.
As far as the possible causes are concerned, it may be due to drinking too little water or exercising too much or too little. Some of the other possible causes include weight loss surgery, obesity, consuming too much sugar or salt. Sometimes, family history and infections may also lead to these stones. It is also observed that consuming too much fructose increases the risk of developing these stones.
There are many different types of stones. The most common type of these stones is calcium oxalate which is formed when calcium combines with the oxalate in the body. Inadequate fluid intake, as well as various other conditions, leads to a formation of this type of stone. Another common type of kidney stone is formed from uric acid. Various foods such as shellfish and organ meat have a high concentration of purines and this leads to higher production of monosodium urate in the body. This chemical may convert to stones in the kidneys under the right conditions. Usually, these types of stones run in the family. Other common types of stones include cystine and struvite.
As far as the symptoms are concerned, it is usually pain on either side of the lower back or constant stomachache. Other symptoms include blood in the urine, nausea, vomiting, chills, fever as well as bad smelling urine. Some stones are as small as a grain of sand but sometimes, they get as big as a pebble in size. Sometimes, golf ball sized stones are also formed in the body.
These stones cause pain when these lead to blockage or irritation. In most cases, the stones pass through the body without causing any damage but cause a lot of pain. In most cases, pain relievers may be the only treatment. Surgery may be required in severe cases.
It is important that you go to a doctor as soon as possible in case you think that you have a stone. The doctor may prescribe drinking extra fluid to flush out the stones or to adopt a kidney diet. If that doesn’t work, you may need surgery. It is also recommended to strain the urine and save a piece of the stone for diagnosis.
There are also some long-term consequences of these stones as the presence of these stones in the body increase the risk of development of chronic kidney disease. Also, people who already have developed one stone are at a much higher risk of developing another stone within 5 to 7 years.
One of the best ways to decrease the likelihood of development of the stones is to keep drinking enough liquid to decrease the concentration of waste products in the urine. Ideally, the urine should appear light yellow if you are well hydrated. It is also recommended to eat more vegetables and fruits as it decreases the acidity of urine. With decreased acidity, the likelihood of stone formation goes down. Consuming animal protein also increases the likelihood of kidney stones.