Some people are more likely to have kidney stones than others. You may have heard that sharp pain in your back or lower abdomen, or pain while urinating can be indications of the problem. But how can one identify this accurately, and what are your treatment options once you’ve been diagnosed with kidney stones?

Nephrologist Dr Veerabhadra Gupta, Medical Advisor at Bangalore Kidney Foundation, Bangalore, shares details about the causes, diagnosis, medical treatments, and home remedies for kidney stones.

1. What are kidney stones & what causes them?

Kidney stones (also called renal calculi, nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis) are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys.

Causes Of Kidney Stones:

  • Some medicines
  • Special diets, like a ketogenic diet that is sometimes used to prevent seizures
  • Obesity
  • Problems with how the urinary tract is formed
  • Metabolic disorders (problems with how the body breaks down and uses food)
  • Gout (a type of arthritis)
  • Other kidney conditions 
  • Conditions that affect the thyroid or parathyroid gland
  • Some urinary tract infections(UTI)

Other Things That Can Make A Kidney Stone More Likely Are:

  • Not drinking enough water
  • Eating too much salt
  • Not having enough citric acid (the acid in citrus fruits such as oranges) in the urine
  • Having too much calcium in the urine

2. What are some early signs you may have kidney stones?

A kidney stone usually will not cause symptoms until it moves around within your kidney or passes into your ureters — the tubes connecting the kidneys and the bladder. If it becomes lodged in the ureters, it may block the flow of urine and cause the kidney to swell and the ureter to spasm, which can be very painful. At that point, you may experience these signs and symptoms:

  • Severe, sharp pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present

Pain caused by a kidney stone may change, for instance, shifting to a different location or increasing in intensity as the stone moves through your urinary tract.

3. Who is most susceptible to kidney stones?

Kidney stones mostly affect adults. But kids and teens can get them. The lifetime risk of kidney stones is about 19% in men and 9% in women. In men, the first episode is most likely to occur after age 30, but it can occur earlier.

4. How do doctors diagnose kidney stones?

Diagnosis of kidney stone starts with a medical history, physical examination, and imaging tests. Your doctors will want to know the exact size and shape of the kidney stones. This can be done with a high-resolution CT scan from the kidneys down to the bladder or an x-ray called a ‘KUB x-ray’ (kidney-ureter-bladder x-ray), which will show the size of the stone and its position. In some people, doctors will also order an intravenous pyelogram or IVP, a special type of X-ray of the urinary system that is taken after injecting a dye.

5. What are the chances of having more or recurring kidney stones once you’ve had them?

Once you’ve had one kidney stone, you are 50% more likely to get another within the next 10 years.

6. How can someone deal with the first signs of pain caused by kidney stones?

Once it is detected that you have a kidney stone, you may be asked to drink a lot of water. Doctors try to let the stone pass without surgery. You may also get medication to help make your urine less acid and to relieve the pain. But if it is too large, or if it blocks the flow of urine, or if there is a sign of infection, it is removed with surgery.

7. What is the medical treatment for kidney stones?

Most small kidney stones won’t require invasive treatment. You may be able to pass a small stone by:

  1. Drinking water: Drinking as much as 2 to 4 litres a day will keep your urine dilute and may prevent stones from forming. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, drink enough fluid — ideally mostly water — to produce clear or nearly clear urine.
  2. Pain relievers: Passing a small stone can cause some discomfort. To relieve mild pain, your doctor may recommend pain relievers.
  3. Medical therapy: Your doctor may give you medication to help pass your kidney stone. This type of medication, known as an alpha-blocker, relaxes the muscles in your ureter, helping you pass the kidney stone more quickly and with less pain.

8. Is passing a kidney stone painful?

You might not notice anything is amiss until the stone moves into your ureter — the tube that urine travels through to get from your kidney to your bladder. Kidney stones are typically very painful. Most stones will pass on their own without treatment.

9. What are some home remedies that can help prevent or treat the symptoms of kidney stones?

Making small adjustments to your current diet and nutrition plan may go a long way toward preventing kidney stones.

1. Stay Hydrated

Drinking more water is the best way to prevent kidney stones. If you don’t drink enough, your urine output will be low. Low urine output means your urine is more concentrated and less likely to dissolve urine salts that cause stones. Lemonade and orange juice are also good options. They both contain citrate, which may prevent stones from forming. Try to drink around eight glasses of fluids daily, or enough to pass two litres of urine. If you exercise or sweat a lot, or if you have a history of cystine stones, you’ll need additional fluids. You can tell whether you’re hydrated by looking at the colour of your urine — it should be clear or pale yellow. If it’s dark, you need to drink more.

2. Eat More Calcium-Rich Foods

The most common type of kidney stone is the calcium oxalate stone, leading many people to believe they should avoid eating calcium. The opposite is true. Low-calcium diets may increase your kidney stone risk and your risk of osteoporosis. Calcium supplements, however, may increase your risk of stones. Taking calcium supplements with a meal may help reduce that risk. Low-fat milk, low-fat cheese, and low-fat curd (dahi) are all good calcium-rich food options.

3. Eat Less Sodium

A high-salt diet increases your risk of calcium kidney stones. Too much salt in the urine prevents calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood. This causes high urine calcium, which may lead to kidney stones. Eating less salt helps keep urine calcium levels lower. The lower the urine calcium, the lower the risk of developing kidney stones. To reduce your sodium intake, read food labels carefully.

Foods Notorious For Being High In Sodium Include:

  • Processed foods, such as chips and crackers
  • Canned soups
  • Canned vegetables
  • Lunchmeat
  • Condiments
  • Foods that contain monosodium glutamate
  • Foods that contain sodium nitrate
  • Foods that contain sodium bicarbonate (baking soda)

4. Eat Fewer Oxalate-rich Foods

Some kidney stones are made of oxalate, a natural compound found in foods that bind with calcium in the urine to form kidney stones. Limiting oxalate-rich foods may help prevent the stones from forming.

Foods High In Oxalates Are:

  • Spinach
  • Chocolate
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Coffee
  • Beets
  • Rhubarb (dolu)
  • Soy products
  • Wheat bran

5. Eat Less Animal Protein

Foods high in animal protein are acidic and may increase urine acid. High urine acid may cause both uric acid and calcium oxalate kidney stones.

You Should Try To Limit Or Avoid:

  • Beef
  • Poultry
  • Fish
  • Pork

6. Avoid Vitamin C Supplements

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) supplementation may cause kidney stones, especially in men.

Disclaimer: This is for the general information of the readers. Always consult a Nephrologist for specific renal health problems.