Passing Kidney Stones: A Real Pain in the Back

July 13, 2010

Kidney Stones (Renal Lithiasis) form in the kidneys when there is an excess of salts and minerals and usually occur in men. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful, that’s why it’s important to know what causes kidney stones, and what simple changes and additions you can make to help prevent kidney stones and some of the more extreme complications and medical treatments associated with kidney stones.

A number of factors can come together to cause kidney stones. The biggest factor is not drinking enough water, causing the urine to concentrate, allowing the minerals to clump together into crystals. You should drink plenty of water each day, urinating often. Adjust your water intake if the climate changes (summer, a tropical vacation) or if you change (you start sweating more as part of an exercise or detox program).

Other important factors include a past or family history of kidney stones (especially in the case of cystinuria, a genetic condition where cystine is not properly reabsorbed from the kidneys into the blood, and builds up into kidney stones that must then be passed), as well as diet, and the presence of other conditions such as metabolic disorders or any sort of surgery on the digestive tract (which can cause a production imbalance of the minerals that cause kidney stones).

Sometimes kidney stones are cause by a thyroid disorder where a tumor grows and must be surgically removed. Make sure that you take care of your thyroid by eating nutrients targeted to your thyroiod’s functions. One important thyroid nutrient is iodine, found in salt or some sea food. If you are on a salt free diet, or don’t eat seafood for health, ethical, or environmental reasons, then consider a supplement containing iodine and other important thyroid specific nutrients such as taurine.

Kidney stone symptoms often begin as a pain in the ureters (which connect the kidneys to the bladder). Kidney pain is located in the side and lower back. As the kidney stone moves down the urinary tract the pain can move as well, affecting first the abdomen then the groin (it may feel different in each location). The pain and sensation may even cause nausea and vomiting.

Kidney stones may cause urine to change color and appear pink, red, or brown. Kidney stone symptoms may resemble those of a urinary tract infection (UTI) in that it causes the sensation of a persistent need to urinate. If more urinary tract infection symptoms occur (fever, chills, bad smelling urine) the kidney stones may have caused an infection and you should consult a doctor. Urinary tract infections can also be a cause of kidney stones, called struvite kidney stones.

There is no single kidney stones home remedy, although there are a number of ways to help prevent kidney stones and make passing kidney stones easier. As always, prevention is the best option as once you have a kidney stone there are numerous risks, including the kidney stone growing too large, getting stuck or blocking urine, causing bleeding, kidney damage, or infection. Treatment can then include breaking up the stone using ultra sound, insertion of tubes to break or remove the kidney stone, or surgery, if the kidney is affected. Often medications are used both as treatment and prevention to target an imbalance of acids or minerals if that is determined to be the cause; when used as prevention the medication is taken forever.

After passing kidney stones a doctor may have them analyzed to determine which mineral imbalance caused the kidney stone formation. Doctors may also analyze your blood or urine while you’re passing kidney stones to determine the mineral imbalance, as kidney stone medications are targeted toward each type. Depending on the mineral imbalance, there are a number of dietary changes you can make to reduce the imbalance.

For calcium stones, it’s important to avoid getting too much calcium or oxalate (a common calcium kidney stone combination). Foods such as chocolate, tea, and soy, as well as rhubarb, beets, spinach, swiss chard and sweet potatoes may be things for you to avoid. Calcium is important for strong bones, so if you are worried about not getting enough, then look for a supplement that balances the right minerals, as well as has things like magnesium, which aid calcium absorption (rather than having it be passed through your kidneys). Calcium absorption may also be affected by inflammatory conditions, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal problems, in which case balancing your calcium with magnesium may be helpful in the short term, but in the long term you should seek treatment and relief from any conditions causing kidney stones.

Other dietary changes may including reducing the amount of meat in your diet, as well as salt, both of which can contribute to kidney stone formation. If you have a condition such as gout, or something else that causes uric acid kidney stones (chemotherapy, or a genetic disorder), then consider adding cherries to your diet. Cherries contain an enzyme that can neutralize uric acid and thus may help reduce symptoms, as well as containing lots of antioxidants. Citric acid in general is theorized (but not proven) to reduce kidney stone formation. Orange juice is a great source of citric acid.

When taking something for your kidney stones (cherries, orange juice) it will be more effective as a between meal snack, so that your body has more opportunity to absorb it.

In the rare case of cysturnia, which usually affect one kidney more than the other, kidney stones cannot be prevented, so the best thing to do is drink plenty of water and urinate frequently so the stones are passed when they’re small.

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