The Problem with Kidney Stones
Don’t let this condition catch you off-guard
You think you're living a healthy lifestyle by exercising, eating lots of whole foods and keeping stress at bay until one day – owee! You pass a kidney stone.
Kidney stones are hard, crystal-like deposits that form inside the kidneys. They can occur when the urine contains high amounts of salts and minerals – such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid – that become concentrated in the funneling portion of the kidney.
If this sediment isn’t washed out of the body with the urine, stones can continue to grow in size and “fall out” of the kidneys.
When this happens, the tube between the kidneys and the bladder, called the ureter, can become obstructed, which is when the real problems begin.
“If a kidney stone falls out of the kidney and tries to migrate down into the bladder through the ureter, it can obstruct the flow of urine. If urine cannot flow effectively down to the bladder, it begins to back up in the kidney and can become infected or contaminated, which can cause an extreme amount of pain,” explains Dr. Peter Tran, a urologist at Kauai Medical Clinic.
“Kidney stones are a common problem with a high rate of recurrence; we see a lot of kidney stones in Hawaii, and we treat a lot of kidney stones here on Kauai,” Tran says. “Kidney stones can be quite painful, but the stones usually cause no permanent damage if they're recognized in a timely fashion.”
If left untreated, kidney stones can cause blood in the urine and recurrent infections.
A stone or group of stones that obstructs the flow of urine down the ureter can cause significant pressure on the filtering units in the kidney, which may eventually result in the loss of renal function.
“Depending on your situation, you may need nothing more than to take pain medication and drink lots of water to pass a kidney stone," Tran says. "In other instances — for example, if stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary infection, or cause complications — surgery may be needed."
Prevention is, of course, the best remedy.
“After treating kidney stones, we always provide patients with dietary and lifestyle options to avoid future stone formation,” Tran says.
Here are four kidney stone prevention tips:
- Stay well hydrated. Getting enough water (at least 3 quarts a day) is the best way to prevent the formation of kidney stones. The more water you drink, the more you’ll urinate, which prevents stone-causing sediment from settling in your kidneys and urinary tract.
“A common question we get about kidney stones is can they be ‘dissolved?’” says Tran. “Unfortunately, there are very few stones that can actually be dissolved.”
- Pass on the salt shaker. Too much sodium in your diet causes you to lose more calcium in your urine, which puts you at risk for developing stones. Limit your sodium intake to 2,000 milligrams a day, and avoid hidden sources of sodium such as commercially processed foods, fast food and even some restaurant-prepared dishes.
- Sip on some lemonade. This summer refresher can do more than cool you down on a hot day. Studies have shown that lemons and other fruits high in natural citrate, such as limes and grapefruit, offer some stone-preventing benefits, as the citrate may prevent calcium from binding with other constituents that lead to stones. Also, citrate may prevent crystals that are already present from binding with each other so they don’t get bigger.
- Adopt a DASH Diet. The National Kidney Foundation recommends patients follow the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet to slow the progression of kidney stones and kidney disease. You’ll be eating lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products as well as fish, poultry, beans, seeds and nuts.
Not only is it low in salt, the DASH Diet also is low in added sugars and has been demonstrated to decrease the risk for other chronic health conditions such as heart disease, stroke and cancer.
Note that the DASH Diet is not appropriate for people on dialysis. If you have chronic kidney disease, work with you primary care physician and a dietitian to develop the best diet plan for you.
Published on: May 30, 2023