Nephrolithiasis, kidney stones or renal calculi are all different names for the hard mass that is usually formed because of the crystals present in the urine. However, chemicals and natural compounds inside urine may also prevent their formation.
Nevertheless, you should still be aware of the causes, effects, symptoms and possible treatment methods for kidney stones. In addition, if the kidney stones aren’t treated in time, they may lead to irreversible damage and recurrence later.
As there are different kinds of kidney stones, it’s important to carry out an analysis on them in order to eradicate them completely and prevent them from recurring.
Statistics reveal that around 10% of all men and 5% of all women in the United States get kidney stones at some point of time in their lives. These stones occur due to the presence of certain substances in specific quantities in the urine. When that happens, small crystals take shape and convert into kidney stones over a period of time, generally ranging from a few weeks to many months.
People who don’t drink adequate amounts of liquids are at a higher risk of suffering from kidney stones. You are more likely to suffer from them if you pass less than 1 litre of urine per day.
It is possible to get rid of kidney stones without facing any permanent consequences. However, they’re painful and may reoccur if you don’t find them and treat them in time. What more, you may have to face other kidney related problems and/or certain side-effects if there’s a considerable time gap between the formation of kidney stones and their treatment.
Dr Glenn Preminger, who works at the Comprehensive Kidney Stones Centre at Duke University firmly believes that kidney stones are directly related to obesity.
Kidney stones are well-known for showing no evident symptoms at the time of their formation. They may even travel downwards through the ducts known as ureters, and get deposited into the bladder through urine. Therefore, kidney stones are known to pose the risk of blocking and/or harming the urine passage from the kidneys.
There are several different symptoms associated with kidney stones, the primary one being intense pain in the intestines, starting suddenly and sporadically, and ending in the same manner. You may experience two different kinds of pains due to kidney stones. The first type may cause contractions in your abdomen or either side of your back, while the second kind of pain may even extend up to your groin area (groin pain) and testicles (testicular pain).
Other commonly known symptoms of kidney stones are:
- An abnormal urine colour
- Blood in the urine.
Possible effects of kidney stones
The development of kidney stones may possibly lead to certain complications, which if left untreated and diagnosed incorrectly may result in more severe complications, because of the way in which kidney stones block the urine flow. These complications may range from recurrent infections to complete kidney damage.
- Recurrence of stones
- Urinary tract infection (UTI)
- Kidney damage leading to improper functioning of the kidneys
- Healing problems
- Ureter whitening and acute unilateral obstructive uropathy.
You should know that there are different types of kidney stones, so you can identify them correctly and opt for the correct treatment method. These are:
- Calcium kidney stones – The most commonly occurring kidney stones, these are found mainly in men who are in the age bracket of 20 to 30 years. They form when the calcium in the body combines with different substances like carbonate, phosphate and oxalate. Of these, oxalate is found to combine with calcium the most and it’s present in several foods like figs, spinach, plums, blackberries, collards, parsley, green beans, celery, peanuts, cashews, almonds, soya bean, wheat bran, black tea, chocolate, cocoa, vitamin C supplements and more. Many small intestine related illnesses also increase the risk of calcium kidney stones.
- Struvite stones – These occur in women who are suffering from urinary tract infections and may possibly grow to a size good enough to cut off the ureters, kidneys and/or bladder.
- Cystine kidney stones – These are found in people suffering from a hereditary disorder known as cystinuria disorder.
- Uric acid stones – More commonly found in men, uric acid stones are a well-known side-effect of gout or chemotherapy.
You can get kidney stones even by regular consumption of medicines like triamterene, aciclovir and indinavir.
The first step in any kidney stone treatment is following a special diet. Once the doctor confirms the type of kidney stone you have by putting you through different tests, you can start following a more specific diet devised specifically for destroying and removing the stones. A dietician or a nutritionist is the best person to consult in this regard, despite the fact that he/she is most likely to alter your diet to change your everyday calcium, liquids, protein, potassium, oxalate and salt consumption.
The specific treatment for kidney stones will depend entirely on the type of stones and the symptoms. Stones smaller in size normally leave the body by themselves. If they do, you must make sure to save your urine sample so it can be analysed and used for preventing the stones’ recurrence.
Your doctor may prescribe you certain medications depending on the exact type of kidney stone you have. These include:
- Phosphate solutions
- Allopurinol meant for treatment of uric acid stones
- Antibiotics effective in treatment of struvite stones
- Thiazide diuretics
- Sodium bicarbonate and sodium citrate.
Your kidney stones or their symptoms must have any of the below mentioned characteristics to qualify you for a surgery:
- The stone must be growing continuously
- The pain caused by it should be unbearable and extreme
- It should be big enough to prevent it coming out on its own
- The stone should be obstructing the urine flow and causing infection and/or excruciating kidney pain.
The treatment methods adopted for getting rid of kidney stones are becoming less and less invasive nowadays. Many stones may not even lead to any complications, or if they do, the complications may not be very serious.
- Ureteroscopy. This can be used if the stones are situated inside the lower urinary tract.
- Extracorporeal lithotripsy. This involves use of shockwaves for suppressing the kidney stones that are small in size, usually less than 0.5 inch. They should be either close to the kidney or inside the ureter to qualify for this treatment method. Sound waves or shockwaves are used for breaking up the stones. They will then come out via the urine.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy. This treatment method is used in case of very large stones which are either inside the kidney or close to it. The stones are removed using a probe known as an endoscope, which goes into the kidney through a tiny surgical incision.
- One may have to undergo nephrolithotomy or open surgery in certain cases. However these are only used if all other methods have either failed or can’t be used.
Preventing kidney stones
You can easily prevent the formation of kidney stones by making simple changes to your diet. You should take adequate precautions to avoid recurrences or complications in case you already have them.
- Regarding liquids, not every liquid type helps prevent stone formation. Some liquids, like beverages containing alcohol or caffeine may even dehydrate your body. Avoid drinking them.
- Always take medications that are appropriate for the specific type of kidney stone you have. Some medications carry out their task by eliminating certain compounds produced by the kidney stones, through the urine, or by reducing their chances of formation inside the urine. A medication that may work on a certain type of kidney stone but may not work on another.
- Stay away from dairy products like milk and cheese.
- You must completely stop drinking fizzy drinks and avoid eating chocolate and peanuts if you have oxalate stones.
- People suffering from cystine stones are suggested to reduce fish consumption.
- Avoid chicken, anchovies and red meat if you have uric acid stones.