There are two physical pains that are often compared to one another, two pains that are considered some of the worst pains that the human body can experience: childbirth and kidney stones. Unlike childbirth, both men and women experience kidney stones. In fact, it is a very common condition that urologists treat regularly. What, exactly, are kidney stones? Are the signs and symptoms to watch for? How can we prevent them?
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are solid, pebble-like masses that form in the urinary tract. They are composed from salt and other minerals from urine, in a process called urolithiasis. When kidney stones form, they can either be a small stone that passes easily through the urethra, or they can build up into larger stones that may block a ureter.
Causes and Risk Factors
There are often a combination of causes for kidney stones, it’s hard to pinpoint a single cause in any case. However, studies show that kidney stones are more common in men than in women, and most often between the ages of 30-60. Here is a list of common factors that put an individual at risk for kidney stones:
- High urine calcium levels
- Family history of kidney stones
- Diets high in animal proteins
- High sodium intake
- Excess vitamin/mineral intake
Also, according to Very Well Health, kidney stones are more common in the southern United States, where dry heat and dietary patterns contribute to their development.
There are a number of symptoms that can point to kidney stones. If you have one or more of the following symptoms, make sure to visit a urologist near you so that you can receive a prompt diagnosis and treatment:
- Intense pain in the back, sides, pelvic or groin areas
- Frequent need to urinate
- Burning when attempting to urinate
- Fever and chills
- Blood in urine
- Cloudy or smelly urine
- Nausea and vomiting
Kidney stones are typically diagnosed by an x-ray, ultrasound, or computed tomography (CT scan.) After a diagnosis has been made, there are several ways to treat kidney stones, each way being dependent on the size and location of the stones.
Smaller kidney stones are usually given a more conservative treatment. Doctors may advise the patient to drink plenty of fluids, rest, and wait for the stone to pass through the urethra. Other forms of treatment include the following:
- Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a technique in which a machine attempts to break apart the stones from outside of the body, allowing smaller, broken down stones to pass naturally.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) is a technique in which a doctor inserts a small tube, through a small incision, into the body to help drain the kidney.
- A ureteroscope is a small instrument that is inserted up through the urethra to help either extract the kidney stone, or break it apart into smaller pieces.
There’s no guarantee that kidney stones are completely preventable. However, there are many dietary tips that can be followed to greatly reduce the risks for kidney stones.
- Drink plenty of water to continually flush out urinary tract.
- Limit caffeinated beverages to one or two cups per day.
- Eat less animal proteins and refined sugars.
- Avoid excess vitamin supplementation.
- Reduce sodium intake.
Doing what you can to prevent kidney stones could save you from the most excruciating pain that the human body is able to experience! However, it’s important to seek medical attention right away if you believe you may have kidney stones. A trusted urologist will be able to provide you with an effective treatment plan, as well as help you find ways to manage the pain.