What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are varied in shape and size and form when certain chemicals in the urine crystalise and stick together. Some can grow to the size of a golf ball and others remain absolutely minute and pass through the urinary tract quite easily.
If the stones get too large to pass through they block the opening to the urinary tract or else they try to pass through and cause intense irritation in the lining of the tract.
Some people never even know that they have kidney stones, when the stones are very small, but usually there are some very obvious symptoms.
Who is likely to get kidney stones?
Anyone can get kidney stones, but some people are more likely to develop them than others. Typically, a person with a kidney stone is a man 20 to 60 years old. Although 4 out of 5 sufferers are men, women can also develop the condition.
Often, there is a family history of the condition. Chronic dehydration (lack of body water) can lead to kidney stones. Very hot weather, heavy sweating, or too little fluid intake contributes to the formation of stones. For example, people who work outdoors in hot weather and who do not drink sufficient fluids are in a higher risk category.
There is evidence to suggest that a diet very high in animal proteins and fat can contribute to the formation of stones and kidney problems in general, which is why the Atkins diet is not healthy, in my opinion, for long periods of time, if done at all.
People who lead particularly sedentary lifestyles may be more prone to getting stones than someone more active.
Are there different types of kidney stones?
There are two main types of stone, Oxalate and Uric Acid. Calcium oxalate and phosphate stones are made up of a hard crystal compound. These stones have become more common in recent years with about 70% to 80% of all kidney stones currently made up of calcium oxalate and phosphate. The problem is too much calcium in the urine. This can be caused by diet, a metabolic disorder that causes build up, or taking certain drugs such as diuretics, antacids and steroids.
There is also a substance called Purine that is in meat, fish and poultry – I have mentioned Purine before in reference to arthritis. But it really should only be a concern if you are eating very large amounts of food containing it.
Uric Acid stones are rarer and are caused when the body breaks down certain foods – especially in a diet very high in animal protein – and produces too much uric acid. Gout sufferers – again covered in relation to arthritis – are more prone to getting this type of stone. These are also a common problem with animals; particular dogs that have a high protein diet and are prone to kidney disease and stones.
What would someone notice if they have this problem?
With the larger stones that are trying to force themselves through very narrow openings there is severe pain with nausea, and vomiting; burning and a frequent urge to urinate; fever, chills, and weakness; cloudy or very strong smelling urine; blood in the urine; and a blocked flow of urine. Serious infections can result from a blockage.
It is very important that if you start to suffer any of these problems even in a minor way such as a pain across your lower back then you must go and see your doctor immediately.
What sort of treatment will a doctor or hospital provide?
That will vary according to the severity of the problem but usually a patient will have an ultrasound to identify where the stones are and how large they are. Luckily, most are small enough to pass through the urinary tract on their own and so lots of water is drunk to flush out the system. Sometimes medication will be prescribed, especially if there is an infection, which is not uncommon. Obviously pain killers too. They commonly use shock waves (sound waves) to break up the larger stones these days. All of this in non-invasive, which is great as surgery can be avoided.
The most important thing you can do to prevent stones forming again is to change your lifestyle and of course take a very long, hard, look at your diet.
There is a special “Healthy Eating Plan for the Kidneys” which will show you how to help prevent both kidney stones and urinary tract infections and I will post that after the next blog.
For the previous Kidney blog and a directory by subject here is the link.