What you need to know about kidney stones
At a Glance:
Did you know that about 1-2% of all individuals will suffer from kidney stones at one point or another?
The kidneys work from the time we’re born until the day we die. For the most part, given a healthy lifestyle, the kidneys work perfectly well without any kind of problem. However, in certain cases, due to a variety of different factors, stones may form in the kidneys, leading to high levels of discomfort, and at times, even severe pain.
What are kidney stones?
Everyone forms crystals in their urine, even people who never form kidney stones. Urine, which is produced in the kidneys, naturally contains substances that promote the development of crystals. These include calcium, oxalate, sodium, phosphorus, and uric acid.
In usual circumstances, a healthy balance is maintained by stone-promoting crystals and stone inhibitors. It is only when the balance is disturbed that a problem arises.
As the stone promoters increase, the urine becomes supersaturated, leading to the formation of kidney stones. However, the good news is that 90% of these stone pass without any issues. The bad news is that the remaining 10% can lead to some serious problems in the long run if they are not properly managed.
Who are at risk of kidney stone formation?
The following people are more prone to developing kidney stones:
- Males suffer from kidney stones more than females.
- Certain people are more predisposed to kidney stones due to inborn metabolic errors.
- Some people excrete cystine in the urine, and they are more likely to form recurrent, bilateral kidney stones than others.
- Chemotherapy patients face the risk of kidney stones as well.
What are the causes of kidney stones?
There are three major reasons for the formation of kidney stones:
- Anatomic – Stones are formed due to defects present in the anatomical structure of the kidney.
- Metabolic – Certain metabolic disorders like hyperthyroidism can lead to kidney stone formation.
- Idiopathic/Unknown causes – The vast majority of kidney stones fall into this category. The cause for the kidney stones remains unknown in this case.
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
A variety of methods can be used to diagnose the presence of kidney stones. These include:
- X-Ray KUB – By far, it is the most cost-effective method, but it can be unreliable at times.
- Non-Contrast CT Scan – While it is the most accurate, it is also more expensive.
- Intravenous Urogram – It provides information about the function of the kidney and works as well as a non-contrast CT scan in most cases.
What is the treatment for kidney stones?
- Usually, most kidney stones don’t require any medical intervention. If it’s a small-sized stone, your doctor will probably advise you to drink sufficient water at regular intervals throughout the day.
- As passing a kidney stone through your urine may cause some discomfort, you may also be prescribed some pain relievers.
- In some cases, your urologist may also recommend drugs like alpha-blockers. Some studies suggest that alpha-blockers result in the relaxation of muscles in your ureter, making it easier for kidney stones to pass through.
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is used to destroy small-sized stones into tinier fragments with the help of high-energy waves.
The choice of therapy depends on the location of the stone as well as its size. The following procedures fall into this category:
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy – This procedure is used to treat kidney large-sized stones present in the kidney by making a small hole in the skin of the back and using special instruments to reach the kidney stone.
- Retrograde Intrarenal Surgery – Removes smaller stones and is performed using a flexible ureterorenoscope.
- Rigid ureteroscopy – Used to remove stones present in the ureter.
How to prevent kidney stones?
Ensuring good health through healthy habits is essential to preventing a wide range of diseases, including kidney stones.
- Drink 2-4 liters of water every day at regular intervals. Carry a water bottle with you. You also need to ensure that your urine is clear in color.
- Cut down on your salt intake to less than 6 grams per day. High levels of salt in your blood can indirectly lead to kidney stones.
- Too much animal protein boosts the level of uric acid and could lead to kidney stones. Reducing your meat intake will help to keep it under control.
- Get some exercise. The higher your weight, the greater your chance of forming kidney stones.
- Ensure adequate calcium and fiber intake.
- Avoid eating processed foods. Instead, reach out for some fresh fruits and vegetables.
Kidney stones often recur after someone has had their first stone attack. However, with the right precautions, you can cut down your chances of recurrence and lead a healthy life.
The supersaturation of urine with stone-promoting crystals leads to the development of kidney stones. Certain people, such as men, chemotherapy patients, or people who excrete cystine in the urine, are at higher risk of developing kidney stones. It is essential to manage them as they can lead to severe problems if left unchecked. Treatment will depend on the location of the stone and its size. Therefore, conservative treatment, non-invasive procedure, or minimally invasive procedures may be opted by the patient. Prevention of kidney stones requires healthy habits such as exercising, cutting down on salt intake, increasing water intake, and avoiding processed foods.
About Author –
Dr. Arabind Panda, Sr. Consultant Urology, Yashoda Hospital, Hyderabad
MS( PGI), M.Ch (JIPMER)
Specialized in urological and andrological disorders such as male urethral stricture, urinary incontinence. He performs robotic uro surgeries, laparoscopic surgeries for tumor removal and surgical corrections.