Kidney stones are a collection of minerals and salt in the kidney. These minerals are usually made of uric acid or calcium. Once the stones get into the bloodstream, they can travel to different parts of the urinary tract.
Kidney stones are formed in different sizes. They can be so tiny you might not be able to see them with the naked eye, and at times they can grow to become so big they will fill up the kidney.
Kidney stones form as a result of the accumulation of minerals in the urine. This happens to people who don’t drink a lot of water frequently. The more this concentration increases, the higher the likelihood of kidney stones forming.
According to research, 1 in every 11 people in the US has kidney stones. The prevalence of kidney stones is higher in men, even more so among the diabetic and the obese. Very small kidney stones might remain in the kidney, and due to their size, you might not notice any symptoms, at least not until they have moved into the ureter.
Kidney Stones Symptoms
Generally, kidney stones are painful. Most of the time they will pass out through urine, so you will not need treatment. However, you should consult a doctor to remove or break down kidney stones that cannot pass through the ureter. The following are some of the symptoms that you might be having kidney stones:
Back and Belly Pain. Renal colic is the term used to refer to kidney stone pain. It is usually very sharp pain and can be likened to a stabbing wound or painful childbirth. This is one of the most common reasons why people visit hospitals every year, making up more than a million visits to the ER.
The problem starts when the stone gets into the ureter. The ureter is so narrow, so the presence of a stone inside will cause a blockage. As a result of the blockage, the pressure in the kidney will increase, activating nerve fibers which transmit pain signals to your brain.
Another concern about kidney stone pain is that the pain is instant. Each time the stone forces its way through the ureter, the intensity of the pain increases. By default, the walls of the ureter will contract in an attempt to force the stone out. Therefore, the pain will also come in waves, each lasting a few minutes.
More often you will feel the pain below the ribs, along with your back and your side. As the stone keeps pushing through the urinary tract, the pain might radiate through your groin area. You might even feel pain in your stomach.
Blood in Urine. Having blood in the urine, a symptom medically referred to as hematuria, is a sign that you have stones in the urinary tract. Blood does not necessarily have to be red in color. It might be brown or pink in color. There are instances where the blood cells are so tiny, you can only see them through a microscope. The doctor can perform tests to ascertain this.
Painful Urination. Immediately the stone gets to the junction between the bladder and the ureter, you will feel pain whenever you pass urine. This pain is referred to as dysuria. You will either feel a burning sensation or sharp pain when passing urine. In fact, if you are not aware of kidney stones, you might even think you have an infection. It gets worse when you have kidney stones and a urinary tract infection.
Chills and Fever. One of the signs of infection in the kidney or any part of the urinary tract is fever and chills. It might also be a sign of major complications with the kidney stones. If you feel fever accompanied by pain, you should see a doctor urgently.
Smelly Urine. Healthy urine should be clear and the odor should not be intense. If you have smelly or cloudy urine, this might be a sign that you have an infection in the kidney or some other part of the urinary tract. According to a recent study, at least 8% of people who have kidney stones usually have a urinary tract infection.
Cloudy urine is a sign that there is pyuria or pus in the urine. The odor is usually associated with the presence of bacteria that caused the UTI, or when the urine is too concentrated than it usually is.
Urinary Urgency. One of the other signs that you might have kidney stones is when you constantly feel the urge to pee. If you know how often you pee, having to go to the bathroom more often than you normally do might be a sign that the stone has made its way to the lower section of the urinary tract. This might also be misconstrued to be a urinary tract infection.
Inconsistent Pee. The larger kidney stones might get stuck in the ureter, thereby blocking the normal flow of urine. As a result, you will end up urinating only a little bit whenever you go to pee. However, take note that if you completely stop urinating, this would call for a medical emergency.
Nausea. It is very common for people who have kidney stones to feel nauseated and vomit from time to time. This usually happens because the kidneys and the gastrointestinal tract share nerve connections. The stones can, therefore, trigger a reaction in the GI tract nerves, which will eventually cause a stomach upset. Besides, the body at times responds to intense pain through vomiting.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There are a number of procedures that your doctor can recommend in case they suspect you have kidney stones. These include the following:
Blood Tests. A blood test will reveal the level of uric acid or calcium in your blood. These tests also help the doctor determine how healthy your kidney is, and it is from their results that the doctor might also recommend other tests to check on your general health.
Image Tests. Image tests will show the doctor kidney stones within the urinary tract. There are several options available. A normal x-ray scan might work, but at times this might not show the tiny stones. A CT scan, on the other hand, can show even the small kidney stones.
There are other imaging options that you can be subject to, including an intravenous urography or an ultrasound.
Urine Tests. The doctor will recommend a urine test to determine the presence of stone forming minerals or substances that prevent the formation of kidney stones. Based on this result, they might further request more urine samples for at least two days.
Stone Analysis. In some cases, you might be advised to pass urine through a strainer so that the stones passed through urine can be analyzed in a lab. The analysis will show the composition of the stones, which helps the doctor determine the cause and come up with a plan to prevent more stones from forming in the future.
There are different treatments available for kidney stones, depending on the cause and type of kidney stone.
For Small Kidney Stones
You do not need invasive treatment for small kidneys tones. In fact, these can easily be passed through urine. The following are possible options for small kidney stones:
Use Pain Relievers. When passing kidney stones, you will be in a lot of pain. Your doctor can, however, recommend pain relievers like naproxen sodium, acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
Drink Water. You should drink between 2 and 3 liters of water a day. This is sufficient water to flush the urinary system. Unless the doctor advises you otherwise, you should drink as much water as possible until you pass clear urine or pale yellow urine.
Medical Attention. In some cases, you might need medical attention. You will be given some medication to ease the passage of kidney stones through urine. You are usually given alpha blockers, which relax the ureter muscles so you can pass the stones faster with less pain.
For Large Kidney Stones
Parathyroid Glands. Instances arise where kidney stones are too big to be passed through urine because, or because they cause damage to the kidneys, bleeding or UTIs. In such cases, you might need advanced medical procedures.
Sound Waves. Sound waves will be used to break the stones, depending on the size of the stones and where they are located in the ureter. The doctor might also recommend extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).
This is a procedure where sound waves are used to generate very strong vibrations that shatter the stones into smaller pieces that can be carried through urine. This process takes around an hour and you might feel some pain in the process. Therefore, it is always done under light anesthesia or when you are sedated.
You must also take note that ESWL might cause bruising in your abdomen, back, cause blood in your urine, or make you bleed around the kidney or the organs around it. as the shattered stones pass through the urinary tract, you might also feel a lot of pain.
Surgery. If your kidney stones are too big, you might need surgery to remove them. this is a process referred to as percutaneous nephrolithotomy. The doctor will make a small incision in your back and use small telescopes and other instruments to remove the kidney stones.
This process is done under general anesthesia, and you might be hospitalized for around 2 days to recover. It is usually recommended in case ESWL did not succeed.
Ureteroscopy. If smaller stones are stuck in the ureter or kidney, the doctor might pass a ureteroscope complete with a camera through the urethra and the bladder into the ureter and use this to remove the stone. Having located the stone, there are special tools that can be used to break the stone into smaller pieces that can pass through the urine.
In order to help you heal faster and to relieve the swelling, the doctor will insert a stent in the ureter. This procedure can be done under local or general anesthesia.
Parathyroid Gland Surgery
An overactive thyroid gland might be the reason behind your kidney stones. If you suffer from hyperparathyroidism, the body might have a very high level of calcium, and in the process, kidney stones might form.
Hyperparathyroidism happens when you have a benign tumor in the parathyroid glands, or if you are suffering from a condition that makes the glands go into overdrive and produce the parathyroid hormone in excess.
Once the tumor is removed from the glands, kidney stones will not be formed anymore. In some cases, instead of surgery, the doctor might recommend a treatment for the condition that causes the parathyroid glands to produce the hormones in excess.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Kidney stones are a very painful experience, and by all means, you should try and make sure you can prevent them from occurring. According to scientists, if you have ever had kidney stones at some point in life, there is a 50/50 chance that you might have another in around 10 years.
There is no sure way to prevent this from happening, particularly if you come from a family that has a history of kidney stones. The best way to prevent kidney stones is to make changes in your lifestyle and your diet. There might also be medicines that you can use to minimize the risk. The following are some recommendations that can help you prevent kidney stones from forming.
Drink a lot of Water. This is the surest way of preventing kidney stones. In fact, most of the time if your doctor realizes you have kidney stones at an early stage, you will be advised to drink a lot of water, up to 3 liters a day. This helps to dilute the stones and they will eventually pass out through urine.
People who do not drink a lot of water have a very low urine quality. This is urine that is so concentrated, it might not dissolve all the minerals and salts, hence some of them will remain in the kidney, and start forming stones.
Other than drinking a lot of water, you should also consider drinking some orange juice or lemonade often. These juices have citrate, which prevents the formation of kidney stones. It is advisable that you drink the recommended 8 glasses of fluids a day, or whatever quantity will be necessary to pass around 2 liters of urine.
In case you sweat a lot or you engage in intense exercise, you need to drink more water, especially if you or anyone in your family has a history of kidney stones.
One of the easiest ways to tell if you are properly hydrated or not is to look at the color of your urine. Normal urine should be clear or pale yellow. If it is darker, you are not drinking enough water.
Reduce Sodium Consumption. A very salty diet increases the risk of developing kidney stones. This is because the salt prevents the reabsorption of calcium into the blood from the urine. As a result, your urine will be concentrated by calcium, which easily leads to the formation of kidney stones.
In order to reduce this risk, it is advisable that you read the food labels before you buy anything. Some foods that feature in most people’s diets that are very high in sodium content include the following:
- Any food that contains sodium nitrate, monosodium glutamate, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate)
- Lunch meats
- Canned vegetables and soup
- Processed food
Consume Calcium-Rich Foods. The calcium oxalate stone is the most common type of kidney stone. A lot of people, therefore, make the mistake that they should desist from eating calcium foods. However, a diet low in calcium will increase your risk of developing not just kidney stones, but also osteoporosis.
If you have to take calcium supplements, make sure you take them with a healthy meal. Taking them in insolation might increase the risk of developing kidney stones. Some of the options you can consider include low-fat cheese, yogurt or milk.
Use Herbal Remedies. You might want to consider including some herbal remedies into your diet. One good example is the Chanca Piedra herb. This is commonly referred to as the stone breaker and helps the body prevent the formation of calcium-oxalate stones. It is also effective in reducing the size of kidney stones.
When using herbal remedies, however, you have to be careful. Most of these remedies have not been researched properly, and the regulation might not be efficient. Before you start any herbal regime, always consult your doctor.
Take Vitamin C Supplements. Using Vitamin C supplements can cause kidney stones, especially for men. In a 2013 study, guys who take higher doses of Vitamin C supplements reported twice the risk of forming kidney stones. However, there is no research linking foods rich in Vitamin C to the same risk.
Consume Oxalate-Rich Food. Oxalate is a compound that is found in some foods, and it binds with calcium in the urine to form kidney stones. Since you might not stop eating all the foods that contain oxalate, you can consider reducing your intake. Some of these include spinach, wheat bran, soy foods, rhubarb, peanuts, bets, coffee, sweet potatoes, and chocolate.
Animal Protein. Food that contains animal protein is usually acidic in nature and might increase the acidity in your urine. High acid content in the urine might cause calcium oxalate kidney stones or uric acid or both. Some of the food you should either avoid or take in moderation include pork, fish, poultry, and beef.
It is advisable that you openly discuss the medicine that you are currently taking with your doctor because some of the medicines actually lead to the formation of kidney stones. Some of the medicines that can do this include diuretics, decongestants, chemotherapy medicine, steroids, protease inhibitors, and anticonvulsants.
If you have been taking these drugs for a prolonged period of time, you will have a higher risk of developing kidney stones. At the same time, only stop taking such medication at the instruction of your doctor.
There are specific medicines that can be prescribed to help you control the type of substances that are found in your urine. The medicine administered will depend on the type of kidney stones that you have, as shown below:
- Uric acid stones – Allopurinol
- Calcium stones – Phosphate or Thiazide diuretics
- Cysteine stones – Captopril
- Struvite stones – Antibiotics
Home Remedies for Kidney Stones
You do not always have to see a doctor when you have kidney stones, or if you plan on keeping them at bay. More often, most of the remedies that you need are actually in your kitchen or in your fridge. Most people just do not know this yet.
The one important thing you have to remember when dealing with kidney stones is hydration. You must stay hydrated most of the day if you are to pass kidney stones out easily and to prevent the formation of new ones. Besides, this will also help you flush out toxins from the body.
Drinking water might be sufficient. However, adding other ingredients to the mix might offer more health benefits in the process. If you choose any flavored home remedy, make sure you drink a glass of water right after. This should help the ingredients get absorbed into the body faster.
As a precautionary measure, make sure you consult your doctor before you start using any of the home remedies. Your doctor will assess them to figure out whether they might present any risk of further complications, especially having looked at your medical history, and any risk of allergic reaction.
In case you are breastfeeding or you are pregnant, always avoid using home remedies, and only use what your doctor advises. The health of your baby is definitely at stake here. The following are some of the remedies that will help you deal with kidney stones better.
Water. Of course, water has to be the number one on this list. Make sure you increase the amount of water you drink if you need to pass kidney stones. In fact, once diagnosed, try and drink 12 glasses instead of the recommended 8. If the stone has been passed through urine, you can either maintain the 12 glasses or switch to the usual 8.
Dehydration is a key factor in the formation of kidney stones. You can know whether you are dehydrated or not by looking at your urine. If it is not pale yellow or very clear, you are dehydrated and must increase your water consumption.
Horsetail Juice. This is one of the best alternatives for flushing kidney stones. Other than flushing the stones out, horsetail juice also helps to reduce the inflammation, and soothe the swelling. This juice also provides some antioxidant and antibacterial properties that should boost your urinary health.
While it is effective, you should not use it for more than 6 weeks. This is because of the risk of potassium loss and a reduction in the level of Vitamin B in your body. Before you start using horsetail juice, consult your doctor, especially because people who take diuretics, lithium or any heart medicine should never use horsetail juice.
Horsetail juice also has nicotine, so you should never take it if you have been trying to stop smoking, or if you are using a nicotine patch.
Kidney Bean Soup. The soup from cooked kidney beans is useful in promoting a healthy kidney and to improve your urinary health in general. This broth will also help you pass kidney stones. Having cooked kidney beans, strain the soup and keep it. You can drink a few glasses during the day.
Dandelion Root Juice. Dandelion roots help the body by encouraging the production of bile, which can help with elimination of waste, improve your digestion and increase the output of urine. Besides, dandelions are also a good source of vitamins, like vitamins and minerals like zinc, iron, and potassium.
You can either purchase dandelion juice as a tea or use fresh dandelions to make your own juice. In case you are preparing it at home, you can add some apples, ginger and orange peels to make it tastier. 3 – 4 cups a day should do the trick.
Fair warning, however, you might experience heartburn when using dandelion. On the same note, you should not use this juice if you are taking any antibiotics, blood thinners, diuretics, antacids or lithium.
Lemon Juice. Squeeze fresh lemon in your drinking water. Lemons have citrate, a chemical that prevents the formation of calcium stones. Citrate also breaks down the stones, making it easier to pass them through urine. Other than that, lemons generally offer several health benefits that have been well documented by dieticians, nutritionists, and other medical experts.
Pomegranate Juice. For centuries, pomegranate juice has been used to improve kidney functions. It flushes out toxins from the body, including kidney stones. This juice also has a lot of antioxidants, which keep the kidney healthy and performing at peak condition, which will prevent the development of kidney stones.
Pomegranate juice also reduces the level of acidity in your urine, reducing your risk of kidney stones. While you can drink as much pomegranate juice as you can during the day, the following are instances where you should avoid it altogether:
- If you are using Crestor
- If you are on blood pressure medication
- If you use any medicine that is altered by the liver
Celery Juice. Celery juice has always been used in traditional medicine to flush toxins out of the body. It will also help you flush kidney stones. To prepare it, blend at least two celery stalks in water and drink the juice.
As efficient as celery juice is, you should not prepare this mix if you have a planned surgical operation, have low blood pressure or if you have a bleeding disorder. If you are taking sedatives, lithium, levothyroxine or any medicine that increases sensitivity to the sun, you should also avoid taking celery juice.
Apple Cider Vinegar. The active ingredient in apple cider vinegar is acetic acid, and it dissolves the kidney stones. Other than flushing out the stones, apple cider vinegar also helps you ease the pain that is caused by the stones. Apple cider vinegar also has a lot of benefits that have been documented in medical journals over the years.
Prepare 6 – 8 ounces of pure water and add 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar. You can drink this all through the day. However, make sure you do not have more than 8 ounces a day. You can add this mix to your salad dressing, or just use it as a salad.
The problem with apple cider vinegar is that if you use too much of it, you might end up developing osteoporosis, or have very low potassium levels. If you are diabetic, you can still use apple cider vinegar, but you must pay attention to your blood sugar levels all through the day. If you are already taking insulin, you should not use apple cider vinegar. The same applies in case you are using any diuretics or digoxin.
Basil Juice. Basil has acetic acid, which does not just help in breaking down the kidney stones, but also helps in alleviating the pain. Basil is also loaded with nutrients and is often used in traditional healing procedures to provide relief for inflammation and digestive problems.
Basil juice contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, which will further help you maintain a healthy kidney. While medicinal basil juice is useful in flushing kidney stones, there are limits to safe usage. You should not use it for a period longer than 6 consecutive weeks, or you might risk increased bleeding, low blood pressure and low blood sugar.
When to Go See a Doctor
If you have kidney stones, there are some signs that should have you concerned and look for a doctor as soon as possible. The following are some symptoms that should get you worried, especially if, after 6 weeks you are yet to pass the stone:
- Bloody urine
- Severe pain
The doctor will then determine the best cause of action for you, whether therapy or medication. The fact is that kidney stones might be very painful, but they can be passed through urine without having to see a doctor. There are pain relievers that you can take over the counter, which will help you reduce the pain, such as Naproxen, Ibuprofen, and Acetaminophen.
Keep up with the treatment until you pass the kidney stone. During this period, try and avoid drinking alcohol.