ANYONE can develop kidney stones; however, while the condition is most commonly seen in middle-aged men, medical internist Dr Samantha Nicholson says that in the past few years medical experts have seen a rise in the number of women affected by these stones.
“Kidney stones are stones or small, hard mineral deposits that can form in your kidneys. However, they may also develop in other areas such as the bladder, ureters or urethra. They vary in sizes and can be quite painful when being passed,” Dr Nicholson told All Woman.
There are several risk factors for the development of kidney stones, including low urine, high levels of calcium, sugar and salt in your diet, obesity, diabetes and other medical conditions such as tubular acidosis, cystinuria, and other diseases of the digestive system.
Dr Nicholson explained while some stones stay in the kidney, do not grow in size, and do not cause any problems. Other times the stones travel down the ureters (the tubes tasked with taking urine to and from the bladder, respectively) and commonly block the tubes, and as such the urine flow is impeded so it backflows to the kidney on that side. This causes the kidney to become swollen, resulting in a condition called hydronephrosis.
“Some stones may pass on their own since the ureters are muscular and so they will contract repeatedly to try to expel the stones. The repeated muscle spasms and the hydronephrosis cause pain. The former can be excruciating because the stone irritates the lining of the urinary tract and you can get blood in the urine. However, a prolonged obstruction can lead to urinary tract infections as well because there is stasis of urine,” Dr Nicholson detailed.
She also pointed out that if the stone is in the kidney, but is not obstructing the urine outflow, it may be painless. In that case, most times stones are only picked up, if at all, coincidentally on ultrasounds done for others reason or during the investigation of blood in the urine.
A person with kidney stones, the internist explained, may not present with symptoms of kidney stones until it starts moving around. At this point they may experience any one or a combination of signs and symptoms such as severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs, pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin, persistent need to urinate, as well as urinating more frequently than usual and in small amounts. There will also be pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity, pain on urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, blood in the urine (pink, red or brown), nausea and vomiting, and fever and chills if an infection is present.
“Diagnosis of kidney stones requires a complete health history assessment; however, the condition may be confirmed with an ultrasound and/or CT scan. Small stones can pass spontaneously so the patient just needs painkillers, and if an infection is present, antibiotics as well. However, the larger ones might require surgery when stones are too big to pass. They may also do lithotripsy to break up the stone and place a stent in the ureter to keep it open so the stone can be retrieved. No cutting is required; what happens is that the stent is passed through the urethra all the way up for retrieval,” Dr Nicholson advised.
While there is no guarantee once you have had a kidney stone that you won't develop others in the future, knowing the type of kidney stone that you had in the first place can help to determine what may have been the cause and reduce the likelihood of developing another stone later on — well, if you put preventative methods in place that is.
“There are different kinds of stones including calcium stones which are the most common, uric acid stones, cysteine stones, and there are the triple phosphate stones. It would be wise if you can save your stone, that way you can give it to your doctor for analysis,” Dr Nicholson advised.
To reduce your chances of developing kidney stones in the first place, the internist recommends that you drink more water, eat less meat, go for a diet that is rich in fibre and fruits, moderate calcium intake, reduce your salt intake, and moderate your intake of vitamin C, since too much or too little can cause the development of stones.