Kidney stones are hard deposits made of salts and other minerals that form inside the kidneys. Diet, lifestyle habits and a family history of kidney disease all contribute to an individual’s risk of developing kidney stones.
Despite its name, kidney stones can affect any part of the urinary tract, such as the bladder and ureter. For this reason, passing kidney stones can be painful. If left untreated, the stones can eventually cause renal damage.
Unfortunately, more than half a million people in the U.S. are hospitalized due to kidney problems annually. Experts even estimate that one in 10 people will develop kidney stones at some point in their lives.
Kidney stones: causes, types and symptoms
Urine contains various wastes dissolved in it, such as sodium, calcium, oxalate, urate, xanthine and phosphate. When there is too much waste in too little liquid, which is the result of not drinking enough water, those waste products and substances will begin to harden and form into a solid mass.
That solid mass will only get larger unless it is removed from the body through the passing of urine. Otherwise, the mass can either remain in the kidney or move to the ureter, where it might block urine flow. If it does block urine flow, the mass will cause a back-up of urine along the urinary tract. This then causes the pain that kidney stones are notorious for.
The following are two common causes of kidney stones apart from inadequate water intake:
- High-protein and high-sodium diets – A high dietary intake of protein depletes the body’s levels of citrate, a chemical in the urine that prevents the formation of kidney stones. Frequently consuming salty foods can also increase levels of calcium in the urine. Most kidney stones are formed from calcium.
- Underlying kidney condition – Kidney stones are strongly linked to chronic kidney disease. As such, people with a history of this condition might face a greater risk of developing kidney stones.
There are four main types of kidney stones:
- Calcium oxalate stones – Oxalate is an organic acid found in plant-based foods. In plants, it is known to bind to extra calcium to get rid of it. But in humans, this results in kidney stones because oxalate is not an essential nutrient. (Related: Get rid of calcium stones with these natural remedies.)
- Uric acid stones – Uric acid stones can form in people who lose too much fluid due to chronic diarrhea or malabsorption. The lack of fluid causes minerals in the urine to crystallize, forming stones.
- Struvite stones – Struvite is a mineral produced by bacteria in the urinary tract. Struvite stones usually form as a result of a urinary tract infection. Women are especially susceptible to these stones.
- Cystine stones – Cystine stones are the rarest form of kidney stones. They form due to a disorder called cystinuria that causes cystine to leak into the urine.
Kidney stones do not typically cause symptoms until they begin moving through the urinary tract. If the stones become lodged in the ureters, they may cause the kidney to swell and the ureter to spasm, causing pain. Larger stones also tend to cause other noticeable symptoms, such as:
- Burning sensation when urinating
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Blood in the urine
- Cloudy urine
- Foul urine
- Fever or chills
- Pain in the abdomen
Tips for kidney stone management and prevention
Kidney stone management and prevention hinge on eating a healthy diet and drinking water. Follow these tips to naturally dissolve kidney stones and prevent them from recurring:
- Drink at least 2 liters of water every day. You might need to increase your intake during the summer.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Alcohol further dehydrates the body.
- Choose lean meat or, better yet, opt for plant-based protein.
- Cut back on high-sodium and high-oxalate foods.
- Avoid fatty foods.
- Have no more than three servings a day of foods rich in calcium.
- Eat citrus fruits. The citrate in these foods helps prevent kidney stones from forming.
Learn more about kidney stone prevention at Prevention.news.