As you go about your busy life, the last thing you expect is a kidney stone. However, kidney stones are an increasingly common medical condition. Nearly 1 in 11 people in the United States will experience the excruciating pain of passing a kidney stone at some point. Kidney stones form when there is an excess of certain minerals and salts in your urine. They start as tiny crystals that stick together, forming hard stone-like masses. Unfortunately, once formed, kidney stones rarely pass through your urinary tract on their own.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and acid salts that form inside your kidneys. They develop when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. The stones form when these crystals stick together in your kidneys.
The most common types of kidney stones are:
- Calcium stones: Made of calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. They tend to form in urine that is alkaline or high in calcium.
- Struvite stones: Made of magnesium ammonium phosphate. They form in alkaline urine, often after a urinary tract infection.
- Uric acid stones: Made of uric acid, a waste product from protein digestion. They form in acidic urine.
- Cystine stones: Made of an amino acid called cystine. They form in people with a hereditary disorder that causes cystine to leak into the urine.
The symptoms of kidney stones include pain or aching in the lower abdomen or side, as well as nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, blood in the urine, and frequent urination. See your doctor right away for an accurate diagnosis and treatment.
To prevent recurrence, drink plenty of water to help flush out stones from your urinary tract. Limit excess salt, animal protein, and sugary or high-oxalate foods that can increase stone risk. Your doctor may prescribe medications to help prevent certain types of stones from forming. Making lifestyle changes and staying well hydrated are the keys to avoiding future kidney stones.
Common Causes of Kidney Stones
There are several contributing factors that can lead to the development of kidney stones. The most common causes include:
- Dehydration or low urine volume: Insufficient water intake and dehydration are major risk factors for kidney stone formation. When you don’t drink enough fluids, the urine becomes concentrated with waste products, allowing stones to form more easily. Aim for 6-8 glasses of water per day to produce at least 2 liters of urine.
- High sodium diet: A diet high in salt or sodium can increase the risk of kidney stones in some people. Reducing your sodium intake and eating a balanced diet with moderate portions of protein and sodium may help prevent recurrence of kidney stones.
- Obesity: Excess body weight puts extra strain on the kidneys and is associated with higher risk of kidney stones. Losing weight can help lower your chances of developing stones.
- Medical conditions: Certain conditions like hyperparathyroidism, gout and distal renal tubular acidosis can increase the levels of calcium, uric acid and other stone-forming minerals in the urine and raise the risk of kidney stones. Seeking treatment for any underlying condition may help prevent stone formation.
- Genetics: Some people are more prone to developing kidney stones due to family history and genetics. If someone in your family has had kidney stones, you may be at higher risk. Lifestyle changes and medical management can help reduce the likelihood of stones, even for those with a genetic predisposition.
By understanding the most common causes of kidney stones, you can take the necessary steps to lower your risk and avoid recurrent stone formation through diet, hydration and medical treatment. Making long-term changes and managing any chronic conditions are the keys to lifelong stone prevention.
Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Pain in the Back or Side
One of the most common signs of kidney stones is pain in your back or side. The pain may feel dull at first, but as the stone moves through your urinary tract the pain can become more intense. The pain may come in waves and fluctuate in intensity as the stone moves. You may feel the pain in your back, side, lower abdomen or groin. The pain may spread to your genitals as the stone enters your ureter.
Nausea and Vomiting
The severe pain from kidney stones may lead to nausea and vomiting. The pain can be so intense that it triggers your vomiting center, causing you to throw up. Anti-nausea medications may provide relief from these symptoms.
Blood in the Urine
As the stone moves through your urinary tract, it can scrape the inside of your kidneys, ureters or urethra and cause bleeding. This can result in blood in your urine, known as hematuria. The urine may appear pink, red or brown. Passing blood clots in the urine is also possible. See your doctor right away if you notice blood in your urine.
Difficult or Painful Urination
Kidney stones can block the flow of urine from your kidneys to your bladder. This can make urinating difficult or painful. You may feel a burning sensation while urinating or feel the urge to go but cannot pass urine. Complete blockage of urine flow requires immediate medical attention.
Fever and Chills
If a kidney stone becomes lodged in your ureter or causes an infection, you may develop a fever and chills. A high fever and severe chills require emergency care as they can indicate a dangerous infection. Seek medical care right away if your temperature rises above 101 F.
Kidney stone symptoms typically come on suddenly and are caused by the stone blocking urine flow or moving into your ureter. Call your doctor if symptoms are severe or do not improve, as medical procedures may be needed to remove the stone or provide relief from symptoms. Home remedies and ayurvedic treatments can help ease pain and encourage the stone to pass, but medical care may still be required in some cases.
Diagnosing Kidney Stones
Diagnosing kidney stones typically begins with a physical exam and medical history. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms, how long you’ve been experiencing them, and whether you have a history of kidney stones. They may order imaging tests and blood/urine tests to determine the cause and severity of your kidney stones.
Imaging tests allow your doctor to visualize the kidneys and ureters. The most common are:
- Ultrasound: Uses sound waves to create images of the kidneys and ureters. It can detect the presence of kidney stones but may miss smaller stones.
- Computed tomography (CT) scan: Uses X-rays to create detailed cross-sectional images of the kidneys and ureters. It can detect even small kidney stones.
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP): Uses an injected dye and X-rays to examine the kidneys, ureters, and bladder. It provides a detailed view of the urinary tract but requires exposure to dye and radiation.
Blood and Urine Tests
Blood and urine tests check for factors that can contribute to kidney stone formation like high levels of calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and cystine. Common tests include:
- Blood chemistry panel: Measures levels of substances like calcium, phosphorus, uric acid, and electrolytes.
- 24-hour urine collection: Analyzes the chemical components of urine over 24 hours to check for high levels of stone-forming minerals.
- Stone analysis: If you pass a stone, it can be analyzed to determine the type of stone which helps guide treatment and prevention.
By determining the underlying cause of your kidney stones through diagnostic testing, your doctor can develop an effective treatment plan tailored to your specific needs. Treatment may include medication, dietary changes, extra hydration, or procedures to break up or remove the stones. Preventive measures can then be put in place to minimize your risk of developing stones again in the future.
Ayurvedic Treatment and Remedies for Kidney Stones
Medication and Therapies
Several Ayurvedic medications and therapies can help in the treatment of kidney stones. Some of the options include:
-Panchakarma therapy: This involves purification of the body using five methods – vaman (therapeutic vomiting), virechan (purgation), nasya (nasal medication), basti (enema), and rakta moksha (bloodletting). This helps remove toxins from the body and improves kidney function.
-Stone dissolving medicines: Medications like Varunadi kashayam, Punarnavadi kashayam, Gokshuradi guggulu, etc. help break down the stones and facilitate their easy passage. These also have pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
-Herbal medicines: Herbs like Punarnava, Gokshura, Pashanbheda, etc. have lithotriptic properties that help crush the stones into small pieces. They also prevent recurrence of stones. These herbs can be taken in the form of decoctions, tablets, or churnas.
- Yoga and Pranayama: Yoga asanas like pavanamuktasana, sethubandhasana, and bhujangasana and pranayama techniques like bhastrika and kapalabhati improve kidney function and help in expulsion of stones.
-Dietary changes: Consuming adequate amounts of water, reducing intake of sodium, animal protein, and oxalate-rich foods can help prevent stone formation. Including kidney stone dissolving foods like basil, celery, and kidney beans in the diet is also beneficial.
By following the Ayurvedic treatment approach, the stone can be expelled naturally in a painless manner. Even after the stone is passed, continuing the treatment for a few months can help prevent recurrence. However, medical intervention may be required in case of very large stones or if there are complications like hydronephrosis or infections. Ayurvedic treatment can be used as a complementary approach along with conventional treatment in such cases.
Herbal Remedies to Dissolve Kidney Stones
Chanca piedra, also known as ‘stone breaker,’ is a popular herb used to dissolve kidney stones and gallstones. It helps relax the ureter to allow stones to pass, and helps break up existing stones. You can take chanca piedra extract in capsules, or make an herbal tea. The typical dosage is 1-2 grams of the dried herb 3 times a day in capsule form, or 2-3 cups of tea.
Hydrangea root has a solvent action that helps break up stones in the kidneys and gallbladder. It relaxes smooth muscle tissue in the urinary tract, allowing stones to pass. The typical dosage is 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of the dried root in 8 ounces of water, up to 3 times a day. You can also find hydrangea root extract in capsule form to take as directed.
Celery seed acts as a diuretic and anti-spasmodic, helping to relax the urinary tract and increase urine flow to flush out kidney stones. It contains compounds that may help break up stones. You can make celery seed tea using 1-2 teaspoons of freshly crushed seeds in 8 ounces of boiling water. Strain and drink 2-3 cups per day. Celery seed extract capsules can also be taken as directed.
Pomegranate juice contains antioxidants that may help break up kidney stones and keep them from forming. It acts as a natural diuretic, increasing urine flow. For kidney stones, aim for 8-12 ounces of pomegranate juice per day. Be sure to choose pure, unsweetened juice with no added sugar.
By using these herbal remedies, increasing water intake, and making dietary changes, you have a good chance of dissolving your kidney stones and preventing their recurrence. However, for severe or complicated cases, medical procedures may still be required to break up or remove stones. Consult your doctor for an proper diagnosis and treatment.
Dietary Changes to Prevent Kidney Stones
Reduce Sodium Intake
Consuming too much sodium is a major risk factor for kidney stones. You should aim to cut back on sodium to less than 2300 mg per day. Some steps you can take:
- Avoid adding table salt to foods. Use alternative seasonings like herbs, spices, lemon or lime juice.
- Limit highly processed foods like pizza, chips, pretzels, canned soups, and deli meats which tend to be loaded with sodium.
- Compare nutrition labels and choose low-sodium options when shopping. Look for 140 mg of sodium or less per serving.
- Drink plenty of water to help flush excess sodium from your kidneys. Aim for 8-10 glasses a day.
Increase Water Intake
Increasing your fluid intake, especially water, is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones. Water helps to dilute the urine and flush out waste and minerals from the kidneys that can form stones. Most experts recommend aiming for 8 to 10 glasses of water per day to produce at least 2 liters of urine. Other options include:
- Herbal tea
- Lemon water: Add the juice from half a lemon to a glass of water. Lemon juice contains citrate, which helps block stone formation.
- Decaffeinated beverages: opt for decaf coffee, tea and sodas. Caffeine is a diuretic and can dehydrate you.
Eat a Balanced Diet
A balanced diet with the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals will promote good kidney health and help prevent stones. Some recommendations:
- Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and healthy fats. These provide antioxidants and citrates that inhibit stone formation.
- Limit animal protein like red meat and eggs. Too much animal protein can increase calcium excretion in urine.
- Get calcium from low-oxalate, plant-based sources. Good options include broccoli, kale, almonds and fortified plant milks.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Losing excess pounds can help prevent recurrent kidney stones.
Making these dietary changes and staying well hydrated are two of the most effective ways to lower your risk of developing kidney stones. Be consistent and patient, as it can take time to flush out any existing stones and establish new habits. But preventing stones from forming in the first place will save you discomfort down the road.
Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Kidney Stone Risk
To reduce your risk of developing kidney stones, making certain lifestyle changes can help. Some key things you can do include:
Drinking plenty of water is one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones from forming. Aim for 8-10 glasses of water per day to keep your urine diluted and flush out excess minerals and salts that can lead to stones.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Having a balanced diet low in sodium, animal protein, and sugary or high-fructose foods is recommended. Focus on eating more:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables which provide fiber and water to help flush the kidneys.
- Calcium-rich foods in moderation such as yogurt or milk. Calcium supplements should only be taken under the guidance of your doctor.
- Lean proteins such as fish, chicken, beans, and legumes. Limit red meat and full-fat dairy.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of kidney stones. Losing excess pounds can help, as weight loss leads to improved kidney function and urinary flow. Aim for gradual weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week through diet and exercise.
Getting plenty of physical activity has many benefits for stone prevention. Exercise improves circulation, helps with weight management, and keeps your kidneys working efficiently. Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. Activities like walking, jogging, yoga, and strength training are all excellent options.
Making sustainable changes to stay hydrated, follow a balanced diet, achieve a healthy weight, and exercise regularly can significantly lower your chances of developing painful kidney stones. Be sure to also follow up regularly with your doctor, especially if you have a history of stones. By working together on prevention and treatment, you can avoid recurrence and enjoy better health and quality of life.
FAQs: Common Questions About Kidney Stones Answered
Kidney stones can be an alarming health condition, but many common questions about them can be answered to help put you at ease.
What are the most common causes of kidney stones?
The leading causes of kidney stones include:
- Dehydration or low urine volume: Not drinking enough fluids to produce 2 to 3 liters of urine per day.
- High sodium diet: Consuming too much salt which can increase calcium excretion in urine.
- Obesity or weight issues: Excess body weight contributes to higher urine calcium levels and decreased urine volume.
- Gut health issues: Certain gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or gastric bypass surgery can affect urine composition and increase stone risk.
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
Common signs of kidney stones include:
- Severe pain in the side, back, or lower abdomen: Pain may come and go as the stone moves, or be constant.
- Nausea and vomiting: The pain from stones can trigger an upset stomach and sickness.
- Blood in the urine (hematuria): Stones may scratch or damage the urinary tract, causing blood to appear in urine.
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine: If there is an infection in addition to the stones, urine may become cloudy, dark, or foul smelling.
- Pain while urinating: There may be a burning sensation or pain during urination when stones are present.
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
To determine if you have kidney stones, the following tests may be performed:
- Blood testing: Blood work is done to check for signs of infection, kidney damage or other abnormalities.
- Urine testing: Urine samples are analyzed to check for blood, signs of infection, stone composition, and urine chemistry.
- Imaging scans: Computed tomography (CT) scans, ultrasounds, and X-rays are used to locate the position and size of the stones.
What natural remedies can help prevent and treat kidney stones?
Some effective natural kidney stone remedies include:
- Drink plenty of water and other fluids to keep urine diluted. Aim for 8-10 glasses per day.
- Reduce sodium intake. Cut back on foods high in sodium like chips, pretzels, pickles, and canned soups.
- Increase dietary calcium. While too much calcium can contribute to stones, too little can also be a problem. Most experts recommend consuming calcium-rich foods in moderation.
- Increase lemon water. The citrate in lemons helps prevent stones from forming. Add the juice from half a lemon to a glass of water.
In summary, kidney stones can develop due to a combination of factors including diet, fluid intake, and genetic predisposition. While painful, most kidney stones can pass on their own with time and increased hydration. For those that do not pass or cause complications, medical procedures are available to break up or remove the stones. Ayurvedic medicine also offers natural remedies and treatments to help flush out kidney stones and prevent their recurrence. By understanding the causes of kidney stones and making positive lifestyle changes, you can reduce your risk of developing them in the first place. Staying well hydrated, eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting excess salt and animal protein are all steps you can take for kidney stone prevention and long term health.