Are you at risk of kidney stones?
Maybe you’ve experienced the symptoms: severe, sharp pain in your mid-back or side, nausea, vomiting—even blood in your urine.
Or, maybe you aren’t one of the half a million people who flee to emergency rooms across the nation each year due to kidney stones—for now.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime.
Stones come in all shapes and sizes and can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. The bigger the stone, the more noticeable the symptoms, which also include fever, chills and smelly or cloudy urine.
Composed of chemicals normally secreted in the urine, solid crystals form in the kidney when there is an excess amount of waste in a small amount of liquid. These crystals join together to make kidney stones that hopefully exit the body in the urine. But that isn’t always the case.
“Most stones can be passed spontaneously without surgery, but it largely depends on the size of the stone,” says Dr. Herbert User, a urologist with Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. If the stones don’t pass on their own, they can cause a stoppage of urine flow out of the body, leading to a potential for kidney damage.”
So where do they come from?
“Stone formation is a combination of both genetics and diet. If you are cursed with kidney stone-forming genetics, then diet can only minimize stone formation, but a terrible stone-producing diet can overwhelm even good genetics. Overall, diet is the dominant factor in most cases,” says Dr. User.
Other causes of kidney stones include not drinking enough water, exercising too much or too little, being obese, undergoing weight loss surgery and eating foods high in salt or sugar.
“By far, the most important lifestyle/dietary modification is to keep well-hydrated with the proper fluids. Water or lemon water are the very best options, while dark liquids like tea, coffee and cola should be minimized,” he says.
Other tips include reducing the acidity of your urine by consuming more fruits and vegetables and beginning a weight loss regimen if you are overweight.
Think you’re off the hook? Dr. User says you may be unaware that you have kidney stones.
“Most people do not have kidney stones, but it is also quite common for people to have stones in the kidney without knowing it. The stone becomes known if it starts to pass or if the patient has an x-ray for another reason and it shows up. But it is quite rare that a patient would pass a stone without any pain or blood whatsoever.”
It is important to remember that people who have had kidney stones in the past have a 50 percent risk of forming another stone within less than 10 years. Additionally, they are at a heightened risk of developing chronic kidney disease, a condition affecting more than 25 million Americans, with millions more at risk.
Advocate Christ Medical Center is an official sponsor of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois’ Walk for Kidneys this Saturday, June 25. To participate in the walk or to donate, click here.
About the Author
Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.