Those who get the kidney stone pain once, remember it for a lifetime! They say, it’s as bad as the pain of childbirth, with nothing to show for it at the end.
Every year more than half a million people end up in emergency rooms complaining of kidney pain. It is common enough that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives.
Our urine contains a lot of waste. In the absence of liquid to flush it away, this waste starts to form into crystals. These crystals then stick with other elements and begin to solidify and get larger. Usually these are eliminated when we pass urine as in a majority of people, consumption of enough liquid washes them out or other chemicals in urine stop a stone from forming in the first place. If a stone is formed, it can stay in the kidney or try to make its way down the urinary tract into the ureter. Tiny stones can usually pass without being noticed, but if they are big, they may not move easily, causing a back-up of urine in the kidney, ureter, the bladder, or the urethra. This is what causes excruciating pain.
There are four main types of stones:
- Calcium oxalate: The most common type, a calcium oxalate stone is formed when calcium combines with oxalate in the urine. If there is not enough calcium and fluid intake, as well other conditions, these stones can be formed.
- Uric acid: Uric acid stones form when the levels of uric acid in the urine is too high, and/or the urine is too acidic (pH level below 5.5) on a regular basis. Eating a disproportionately large amount of animal proteins can cause uric acid to build up in the urine. This can then settle and form a stone by itself or along with calcium. However, a person’s diet alone is not the cause of uric acid stones. Other people in the same family eating the same meals may not have any problems because they are not prone to developing uric acid stones.
- Struvite: Less common than the ones above, these stones are caused by infections of the upper urinary tract.
- Cystine: These rare stones tend to run in families.
Kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball so obviously the larger the stone, the more severe the symptoms. Symptoms include-
- severe pain on either side of your lower back
- stomachache that doesn’t go away along with pain in the general area
- blood in the urine
- nausea or vomiting
- fever and chills
- Bad smelling urine
- Cloudy urine
When a kidney stone obstructs the passage, it starts to cause extreme pain. Pain relievers may be the only treatment needed for small stones. Stones that are large may require removal. Doctors can determine the exact size and shape of the kidney stones with a high-resolution CT scan from the kidneys down to the bladder or an x-ray called a “KUB x-ray” (kidney-ureter-bladder x-ray). This test can show the size of the stone and its position.
As treatment for kidney stones, you may be asked to drink a lot of water. It is always best if the stone can be passed without surgery. You may also get medication to help make your urine less acidic. If the stone is too large or blocks urine flow or if there is an infection, the doctor will suggest removal.
A noninvasive procedure, Shock-wave lithotripsy uses high-energy sound waves to blast the stones into tiny fragments that can then easily pass out in the urine. In ureteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the ureter to the stone which is then obliterated. For very large or complicated stones, doctors will use percutaneous Nephrolithotomy/Nephrolithotripsy.
The most important reasons for development of kidney stones are not drinking enough fluids and eating foods that are high in salt. Salty foods such as chips, fries, sandwich meats, canned soups, packaged meals should be avoided. Sodas and other sweetened beverages can also increase the risk of stones if they contain high fructose corn syrup. The best way to ensure you never have to face kidney pain is very simple…just drink plenty of water daily!