We’ve probably all heard of someone we know who was in terrible pain and found out it was because of a kidney stone blockage.
According to Timothy Schuster, MD, a urologist with ProMedica Physicians Genito-Urinary Surgeons, the prevalence of kidney stones is especially high in the summer months. “Kidney stones are painful, common and treatable,” says Dr. Schuster. “There is such thing as the ‘stone belt’ where kidney stones are more common the closer people live to the equator. In our region, we see a much higher incidence of kidney stones in the warmer months.”
What are kidney stones?
“Kidney stones are hardened mineral deposits that form in the kidneys,” says Dr. Schuster. “It’s not the stone itself that causes pain but the fact that when a stone becomes lodged in the ureter, it can block the flow of urine which causes pressure to build up and cause severe pain.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, one in 10 people develop kidney stones during their lifetime. Kidney stones are most prevalent in people aged 30 to 45.
What are the best methods of prevention?
Drink plenty of water. Dr. Schuster recommends drinking enough water to pass two and a half liters of urine a day, which is roughly eight standard 8-ounce cups. “The biggest risk factor for kidney stones is dehydration which is why they are more common in the summer months. People need to drink more water when it’s warm and they are sweating.”
While he recommends the ideal beverage is plain water, he suggests adding some natural citrus to your water to help block stone formation.
Eat a diet rich in plants and vegetables. “Our Western diet consists of many high fat, high salt and high protein foods. The best foods for preventing kidney stones are fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Schuster.
What are the symptoms and when should you seek treatment?
The most common symptom is pain in the back and side and blood in the urine. “It can be intense and yes, I’ve had female patients describe it as being worse than childbirth. Many patients have mild to moderate pain and nausea.”
Dr. Schuster recommends that you notify your regular physician if you have consistent or sharp pain in your back or side. With severe pain or blood in the urine, you should to seek immediate, emergency medical attention.
What are the biggest misconceptions about kidney stones?
Avoiding calcium – The most common stones are comprised of calcium and oxalate. “Since people hear ‘calcium,’ they think you should eliminate calcium in your diet, but the opposite is true – a diet low is calcium actually increases your chances of developing kidney stones,” says Dr. Schuster.
Consuming cranberry juice – “While consuming cranberry juice has been shown to prevent urinary tract infections, there is no data that cranberry juice has any effect on kidney stones,” says Dr. Schuster.
How do you treat kidney stones?
“The treatment depends on the size and type of stone,” says Dr. Schuster. “Our providers have the skill and experience to use the most advanced treatments available to address even the most difficult kidney stones.”
These are the most common treatments:
- Laser Lithotripsy: uses a fiber passed through an instrument to deliver a laser beam to break up the kidney stone.
- Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL): uses highly focused impulses projected from outside the body to pulverize kidney stones anywhere in the urinary system. This technique usually reduces the stone to sand-like granules that can be passed in the patient’s urine. Large stones may require several ESWL treatments. The procedure takes less than an hour and is done on an outpatient basis.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL): used for large stone (more than 2 cm). A tube is placed directly into the kidney through the back and then the stones are broken up and removed through the tube.
Dr. Schuster explains that there are some people who are genetically predisposed to kidney stones, but the majority of people can prevent them by watching their fluid intake. “My biggest piece of advice is for people to be vigilant with their water consumption. It’s that easy and so important.”