What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are hard deposits of salt and minerals that form within the kidney or urinary tract. Depending on where the stone is located, it can be termed a kidney stone, ureteric stone, or bladder stone. Calcium stones in the form of calcium oxalate are the most common type of stone. While these substances usually dissolve in urine, some factors (such as certain medical conditions and nutrition) can cause their concentration in urine to rise, forming crystals.
Kidney stones can cause severe pain. Left untreated, they can lead to serious complications such as kidney damage or kidney infection.
Kidney stones can affect people of any age, even children. However, men aged 20 – 40 years old are at greater risk of being affected.
What causes kidney stones?
There are various reasons why minerals in our urine may crystallise and join together, forming stones. Some factors that increase your risk of developing kidney stones are:
Lack of water
Drinking enough water is crucial to preventing kidney stones. Drinking more water allows us to produce more urine, reducing the chance of kidney stones forming due to undissolved minerals in our urine. Aim to drink at least 8 – 10 glasses of water each day.
A common type of kidney stone is the calcium oxalate stone, which can develop from having too much oxalate in our urine. Oxalate is a natural compound found in food. High-oxalate foods include spinach, coffee, chocolate, sweet potatoes and soy products.
A high-sodium diet can also increase your risk of getting kidney stones. Having too much salt in your urine can prevent calcium from being reabsorbed into our blood, resulting in high urine calcium. This can lead to kidney stones. High-sodium foods include frozen meals, canned vegetables and soups, deli meats and sauces.
Researchers have found that being obese, having a higher Body Mass Index (BMI) and larger waist size increases your risk of developing kidney stones.
Family and personal history of kidney stones
You are more likely to develop kidney stones if someone in your family has had kidney stones. Having a personal history also increases your risk of developing kidney stones again.
Certain medications can cause kidney stones, such as calcium-based antacids, steroids, and anti-seizure drugs.
Having certain conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, type 2 diabetes, gout, and chronic diarrhoea can increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
How do I know if I have a kidney stone?
Smaller kidney stones that remain in the kidney do not usually cause any symptoms. Symptoms are likely to appear only when the stone moves from the kidney tract down the ureters (tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder).
Symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Severe pain in the back, abdomen, or side. Kidney stone pain typically comes and goes, and fluctuates in intensity. The pain may start in the upper back and move down towards the abdomen and groin.
- Pain when passing urine
- Blood in urine. In such cases, your urine may appear pink, red, or brown.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fevers and chills in the event of an infection.
Are there natural remedies for kidney stones?
Some kidney or ureteric stones are small enough to be passed out through your urine, and can be treated at home by taking plenty of water and painkillers (as prescribed).
There are natural remedies that can be helpful in increasing your chances of passing kidney stones, and preventing their development. It is important to first consult your doctor on the suitability of these remedies, especially if you have pre-existing medical conditions or are taking medication.
Increasing your intake of fluids, especially water, is one of the best ways to prevent and treat kidney stones.
Citrus foods such as lemons, lime, apple cider vinegar and oranges contain citric acid, which may help prevent new kidney stone formation and enlargement of existing stones. An easy way to increase your intake of citric acid is by adding citrus fruit juices to your water.
As calcium stones are one of the most common types of kidney stones, you may think that you should avoid calcium to reduce the chances of getting kidney stones.
However, the opposite is true. Eating calcium is important as it combines with oxalate in our stomach and intestines before it reaches the kidney. This allows oxalate to leave our body without forming kidney stones.
Wheatgrass contains compounds that increase urine flow, which allows stones to pass more easily and reduces your risk of developing kidney stones.
Wheatgrass is also high in nutrients and antioxidants that can help cleanse our urinary tract and kidneys.
You can start taking wheatgrass by up to a cup of fresh wheatgrass juice a day. Alternatively, you can take wheatgrass supplements which are widely available.
What are some treatment options for kidney stones?
Treatment varies depending on the size, type and location of your kidney stone, and some small kidney stones do not necessarily involve surgery. Upon assessment, your doctor will be able to suggest a suitable treatment for you.
If your kidney stones are too large to be passed naturally, your doctor may suggest removing the stones through procedures such as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy, Ureterorenoscopy or Percutaneous Nephrolithotripsy.
How do I know if I require immediate medical attention?
You are advised to visit the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department if you are experiencing the following symptoms related to your kidney stone:
- Fever, with a temperature higher than 39ºC
- Persistent nausea and vomiting
- Severe pain
Find out more about whether your symptoms warrant a trip to the A&E.
Article reviewed by Dr Shirley Bang, urologist at Parkway East Hospital
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