Kidney stones are a relatively prevalent condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. Kidney stones are hard, crystalline deposits that occur inside or outside the kidneys and block the normal flow of fluids (particularly urine) through the urinary tract. Let’s talk about how kidney stones form, what the most common symptoms are, and how they may be treated.
How are Kidney Stones Formed?
Kidney stones can form when the urine has a high concentration of dissolved minerals and salts. One of the most prevalent causes of kidney stones is a high concentration of calcium salts. Besides calcium, additional components like uric acid, cysteine (an amino acid), magnesium, and others are also involved in their production.
The high concentration of these minerals and salts causes the production of a crystalline mass, in which minute crystals come together to create a hard stone-like structure. The occurrence of kidney stones is especially high when the urine lacks enough fluids, i.e. when the urine is excessively concentrated. If the stones are large enough, they can get lodged in the kidneys, ureters, or even the bladder, obstructing urine flow and causing intense pain in the reflected areas.
Some risk factors for kidney stone development include:
1. Inadequate water intake: A sufficient amount of water and fluids are essential for regular urine production and transportation. A lack of water can cause urine to become concentrated, increasing the risk of kidney stone development. Make sure you drink plenty of water (3-4 liters per day).
2. Obesity: Obesity may contribute to the formation of kidney stones because the concentrations of various proteins and salts in the body rise, raising the risk of kidney stone formation.
3. Diet: Since high levels of sodium can cause extra calcium to be filtered by the kidneys, a diet heavy in sodium and protein is more likely to lead to the production of kidney stones. Therefore, limit your intake of sodium-rich meals.
4. Drugs and medications: Prolonged use of certain drugs and medications like supplements, antacids, and laxatives might raise the risk of kidney stone development.
5. Genetic history: Kidney stones are more prone to arise if there is a family history of the condition.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Now that we’ve talked about the causes and risk factors for kidney stone development, let’s look at some of the most prevalent symptoms associated with the condition.
1. Sharp, needle-like pain in the lower back, generally below the ribs.
2. While voiding urine, you may experience pain or a burning sensation.
3. Urine appears reddish-brown with a foul odor.
4. Frequent urination, even before the bladder is full.
5. Fever and chills along with nausea and vomiting are likely if an infection develops.
6. Blood in urine
These symptoms might worsen with time and interfere with everyday activities, which is why it is a good idea to see a doctor and begin proper therapy.
A CT scan, blood test, urine test, and other methods like ultrasound and MRI can be used to identify a suspected kidney stone. Following a diagnosis, the doctor will provide treatment options based on the location, size, and severity of the kidney stone.
In cases when the condition is not severe, doctors commonly advise patients to drink 7-8 glasses of water each day and to take diuretics and pain relievers. Thiazide diuretics, ibuprofen, Zyloprim, acetaminophen, are some of the commonly used drugs.
In cases when the stones are large and obstruct the transit of urine, sound wave therapies are utilized to break the large stones into smaller ones, allowing them to be passed along with the urine. This is known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).
Large stones can also be removed surgically while the patient is sedated. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy is a technique that is utilized when a stone has produced an infection that is causing severe pain or when the stone cannot be passed out. Now that we have a better understanding of kidney stones, it is best to adopt preventive steps such as drinking enough water, eating a healthy diet low in salt and sugar, and engaging in physical activity, to minimize the risk of this condition.