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A Q&A Guide to Kidney Stones


Someone who’s had a kidney stone before will tell you: they’re not something to take lightly.

Each year, more and more people make visits to emergency rooms due to kidney stones. According to the National Kidney Foundation, nearly one in 10 people will experience a kidney stone at some time in their lives. For this reason, it’s important for everyone to know the signs and symptoms of kidney stones, as well as what causes them in the first place, and what they can do to prevent them.

Q: What are kidney stones?

There are different types of kidney stones, and they vary in terms of size, shape and color, but basically all kidney stones are hard, tiny, crystalized chunks of minerals that form in the kidneys and urinary tract.

Q: What causes them?

Kidney stones are often caused by not drinking enough fluids. Water helps keep the body hydrated and helps prevent the buildup of minerals and waste in the urinary tract. Urine contains various types of concentrated minerals — such as salt, calcium, uric acid, oxalate and phosphate — which pass through the body via the kidneys and urinary tract. When there’s too much of these minerals in the kidneys and not enough liquid to dilute and flush them out, the minerals attach and form “stones.”

Q: What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

In addition to severe pain, kidney stones can cause some other painful and alarming symptoms, including:

Blood in the urine or pain/burning sensation during urination

  • Cloudy, odorous or discolored urine
  • Extreme, sharp pains in the back or side that will not go away
  • Frequent urination or urinating more often than usual
  • Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Pain accompanied by fever and chills

Q: How can kidney stones be prevented?

Kidney stones can be a major health risk if left untreated, but there are modifications you can make to your diet to help prevent them from occurring in the first place, such as:

  • Drinking plenty of water – One of the most common causes of kidney stones is not drinking enough water to help flush out the system. Try to drink more water. For most people, that should equal about 8 to 10 cups a day.
  • Eating a healthy diet – A diet that contains too much protein such as red meat, poultry, eggs and fish can increase uric acid levels in the kidney and can trigger kidney stones. For some people, especially those with a history of kidney stones, eating extremely high amounts of calcium-rich foods — such as nuts, soy products, milk products, beets, spinach and kale — may add to excess calcium and oxalates in their kidneys, increasing the risk for kidney stones. Try to avoid eating too much of these calcium-rich foods. Add more variety of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables to help balance your diet.
  • Reducing sodium intake – Sodium contains calcium. Too much sodium can add to extra amounts in the body, which can lead to kidney stones. A low-sodium diet is also good for blood pressure and cardiovascular health, too. For most adults, daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 mg.

Q: How are kidney stones treated?

Kidney stones rarely cause permanent damage if treated quickly, but if left untreated, kidney stones can grow larger and get stuck in the kidney, ureter, bladder or urethra, causing painful urinary complications and the need for medication to help dissolve them or a minor medical procedure to remove them.

Not all kidney stones require medical intervention. Often, kidney stones pass on their own and don’t require any more treatment than pain medication and drinking plenty of water.

There are some people who may have a history of kidney stones or a genetic or medical predisposition — such as Crohn's disease, gout or the genetic disease renal tubular acidosis — that causes their bodies to form kidney stones. Your doctor can determine if you have such an issue and may prescribe medicines for those who do to help prevent kidney stones from recurring.

Kidneys are extremely vital organs responsible for helping keep the body’s urinary system in order. Kidney stones are detrimental to kidney health and can impair kidney function, damage the urinary tract and exacerbate other health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

If you have a kidney stone or are in pain and need fast relief, call Tanner Health System’s 24-hour Kidney Stone Hotline at 770-812-9931.

If you’re experiencing any signs or symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with a urology specialist at West Georgia Urology by calling 770-834-6988. For more information about West Georgia Urology, visit www.wgurology.com

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