Kidney stones are a top-5 fear for me. They are right up there with scorpions and being abandoned at sea. This is unfortunate, as I have a family history that is littered with kidney stones, and genetics are certainly a factor. My hope is that by following my own advice in this post, I won’t ever have the experience of a stone passing through my urethra.
The best way to avoid kidney stones
What is a kidney stone? Exactly what is sounds like. A freaking stone in your kidney. As in, minerals come together in sufficient quantities to form a stone in your body. The most common stones are of the calcium oxalate variety.
Approximately 1 in 20 people will experience some form of kidney stone in their lifetime. Some of these stones will be hardly noticeable. Some will make you want to take your own life.
The number one way to avoid getting a kidney stone is to stay hydrated. We have previously written about the importance of staying hydrated. There are of course many benefits to drinking lots of water, but let’s be real, avoiding kidney stones has to be high on the list.
Ok, so drink water. That’s easy. What else?
- Go easy on the calcium supplements. In fact, forget them altogether and simply eat foods that are rich in calcium.
- Limit the amount of oxalate in your diet. Oxalate can be found in Spinach, potatoes, nut butters and beets, among other things. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid these foods at all costs. Just don’t go crazy with them.
- Watch the salt and the animal protein. This one’s important. Chill with the processed foods, especially processed meats, which are high in sodium.
- Limit vitamin C supplements. When vitamin C is metabolized, you end up with oxalate, which, as we’ve already mentioned, is one of the main components in most kidney stones.
In addition to drinking water and respecting the above tips, is there anything else you can do to be proactive in avoiding kidney stones? Yes. Try drinking some lemonade. Lemons have exceptionally high concentrations of citrate, which has shown to be effective in preventing calcium oxalate kidney stones. If you can handle it, leave out the sugar and just have some lemon water.
What to do if you get a kidney stone?
Kidney stones are quite effective at making their presence known. Maybe you will have some blood in your urine. Or perhaps you will have excruciating back and/or abdominal pain. It’s not going to be fun in any case.
Some kidney stones are passable. They can come out through the urine with varying amounts of pain. Drinking fluids will obviously accelerate the stone’s possible exit, but you should avoid binging on water, as it could make the pain temporarily much worse.
If the pain is exceptional, not improving, and especially if you are experiencing a fever (this could indicate an infection, and if it is in the blood stream, it is an emergency), you need to get to a hospital and have a thorough diagnosis.
Treatment may involve therapy with certain medications. This is non-invasive and obviously preferable. If your kidney stone can be passed or eliminated through this route, congratulations.
If it can’t, you are looking at shock wave lithotripsy (a very common treatment that involves pulverizing the kidney stone so that it breaks apart into small, manageable pieces), ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy (which involves breaking up the stone(s) with a laser), or percutaneous nephrolithotomy (this involves a small incision in the back in order to retrieve the stone from the kidney).
The preferred method of treatment depends on the size of the stone and its position in the kidney. Of course, this is work for an urologist.
Kidney stones are painful, but you should survive. Be proactive, especially if you have a family history of kidney stones. And heed the signs and symptoms. If you do end up with a stone, act quickly to get professional treatment.
Perhaps the worst news in all of this is that 50% of patients have a recurrence of kidney stones. In other words, if you do find yourself with a kidney stone, you will need to be especially proactive afterwards. Drink that water, limit the salt and animal protein, go easy on foods rich in oxalate and go crazy with the lemonade.
As a parting gift (motivation for you to avoid kidney stones in the coming year), here is a picture of some kidney stones recovered from patients:
Survived a kidney stone? Tell us about it in the comments below.