Kidney Stones: Causes and Prevention
If you ask people to name the most painful medical condition they've experienced, one in ten will name kidney stones. Researchers estimate about 10% of the population will suffer the unforgettable pain of kidney stones in their lifetime. Countering the risk factors for developing this condition is often as simple as changing one or two lifestyle choices.
In this article, you'll learn how these stones are formed and how to prevent kidney stones.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are exactly what the name says — stones in the kidneys. The kidneys filter our blood, removing dissolved salts and minerals to form urine. Elevated levels of these substances form tiny crystals that stick to each other. As these crystals solidify and harden, they form irregularly shaped stones that fill the hollow areas inside the kidneys.
If the stones remain in the kidney, chances are they won't cause any major problems. If a stone moves, it can travel down the ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). The ureter is only about one-quarter of an inch wide, so any stone that size or larger can cause considerable pain as it moves in the ureter.
Some stones get stuck in the ureter, acting like a clog in a pipe. This blocks the flow of urine from the kidneys, and the backup of urine causes intense pain. If the stone makes it to the bladder, it may pass out of the body in your urine (an extremely uncomfortable sensation.)
What Causes Kidney Stones?
Let's look at the main causative factors of kidney stones.
Low Urine Volume
A constantly low volume of urine is a major risk factor for kidney stones. This condition can result from dehydration, from working or living in a hot environment, from hard exercise, or simply not drinking enough fluids. When there is less fluid in the urine, the dissolved salts become more concentrated.
Increasing your fluid intake dilutes the salts and minerals in your urine, thus reducing your risk of forming stones. Adults should drink enough fluids (water is the best) to make a minimum of two-thirds of a gallon (2.5 liters) of urine every day.
One of the more common causes of kidney stones is high levels of calcium in the urine. Lowering the amount of calcium in your diet rarely stops the formation of kidney stones. Instead, it may indicate too much salt in your diet. When excess salt is passing into the urine, it prevents calcium filtered by the kidneys from being reabsorbed into the blood. This accumulation of calcium in the kidney forms calcium stones.
Meat breaks down into uric acid, which raises the chances that calcium and uric acid stones will form. A high animal protein component in your diet, such as pork, beef, chicken, and fish, can increase the acid levels in your urine.
Conditions that cause diarrhea, such as Chron's disease or ulcerative colitis, or surgeries, such as gastric bypass, increase the risk of forming calcium kidney stones.
This condition is a risk factor for kidney stones because obesity changes the levels of acids in the urine, which encourages stone formation.
Certain medical conditions increase the risk of kidney stones. The parathyroid glands control calcium metabolism. Abnormal growth in these glands can cause high calcium levels in the blood and urine.
Medications, such as calcium and vitamin C supplements, can increase your risk of kidney stones forming. Be sure your healthcare provider is aware of all medications you're taking, including over-the-counter ones.
If there is a history of kidney stones in your family, you may have a higher chance of stone formation.
Types of Kidney Stones
The type of treatment used and measures taken to prevent kidney stones depends on the type of stone you have. Here are the most common types:
This is the most common type, making up about 80% of stones. Calcium stones are further identified by the type of calcium that formed them: calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate. Calcium oxalate makes up the most common type of calcium stones.
Uric Acid Stones
This type of stone accounts for 5% to 10% of kidney stones. Chemical changes in your body produce uric acid as a waste product. Uric acid crystals do not readily dissolve in acidic urine. These crystals will instead clump together to form uric acid stones.
Struvite (Infection) Stones
About 10% of kidney stones are struvite stones and relate to chronic infections in the urinary tract. Bacteria in the urine make it less acidic. Struvite (magnesium ammonium phosphate) stones form in this less acidic, or alkaline, urine. These stones tend to be quite large with branches, and they are usually very fast-growing.
Cystine stones make up less than 1% of kidney stones. Cystine is an amino acid found in certain foods. Cystine stones form when excessive amounts of this substance are in the urine.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
If you've been treated for kidney stones, identifying what the stones' composition helps pinpoint lifestyle changes you can make to help prevent them from reoccurring. Some of the most common changes made to prevent this painful condition include:
Drink Plenty of Liquids
Water is best, but citrus drinks, such as orange juice or lemonade, can help stop crystals from turning into stones.
Research Your Medications
Medications can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Talk to your healthcare professional about the risk factors your medication regimen may pose.
Make Dietary Changes
The changes to your diet should be based on the type of kidney stones you have had in the past.
- You may need to cut back on foods that are rich in oxalates, such as nuts, spinach, and wheat bran.
- High sodium content increases your chance of developing kidney stones.
- High levels of sodium are common in fast foods, condiments, and processed meats.
- Limit animal protein (but not all protein) to reduce your risk for stone formation.
- Consider supplements to ensure you're getting the nutrition you need.
- Contrary to popular belief, you want to make sure you're consuming enough calcium. A lack of calcium can cause kidney stones to form.
Get Healthy, Stay Healthy
The best way to make certain you get healthy and stay healthy is to arm yourself with information, evaluate the choices you've made, then make the changes you need to get healthy. Check Tiger Fitness for information on health and wellness, and for the dietary supplements you're looking for.