What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones (also known as nephrolithiasis or renal lithiasis) are solid deposits that are formed from salts and minerals. They can be formed anywhere in the urinary tract (the kidneys, the urinary bladder, or the ureters – the tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder). Kidney stones may be formed in one or both kidneys. They are common, affecting nearly 1 in 10 people. Kidney stones are common in those aged 30 to 60 years old. Having a kidney stone can cause excruciating pain and if left untreated may lead to infection of the urinary tract and deterioration of kidney functions which is a serious condition.
What causes kidney stones?
Having dark concentrated urine is the main cause of kidney stones. This is usually caused by inadequate hydration or excessive loss of bodily fluids. Minerals, salts, and other waste products from the blood present (such as calcium, uric acid, and oxalate) present in concentrated urine easily crystallize and stick together leading to the formation of a hard stone-like lump which is the kidney stone.
Who’s at risk of developing kidney stones?
A person is more likely to develop kidney stones in the following conditions:
1. Not drinking enough fluids.
2. Living in areas with warm climates.
3. People who tend to sweat a lot.
4. Having a family history of kidney stones.
5. Having a personal history of previously developing kidney stones especially if they developed before the age of 25 years old.
6. Certain dietary habits such as consuming excessive proteins and sodium salts.
7. Certain types of medications or supplements such as aspirin, antacids, diuretics, certain anti-seizure medications, certain antibiotics and consuming high doses of vitamin D.
8. Certain medical conditions that increase the levels of minerals and/or salts in urine such as gastric bypass surgery, hyperparathyroidism, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic diarrhea.
10. Repeated urinary tract infections.
11. Inactive individuals (particularly if bed-bound).
Symptoms of kidney stones
Large stones usually cause symptoms that include:
- Severe abdominal pain in the side and back (below the ribs).
- Pain in the belly that comes and goes and varies in intensity.
- Pain radiating to the lower abdomen and groin.
- Men may suffer from pain in the testicles.
- Pain during peeing.
- Pink, reddish or brownish urine.
- Cloudy and bad-smelling urine.
- Having a persistent need to pee and eventually peeing small amounts.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Feeling ill.
When to seek urgent medical assistance?
Call 9-1-1 or make an urgent visit to your doctor if you experience the following:
- Severe pain to the extent that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position.
- Having a high fever.
- Experiencing an episode of shivering or shaking.
- If you have blood in your urine.
- Inability to pass urine despite having the urge.
Types of kidney stones
Determining the type of kidney stones a person has is important as it helps in both treatment of the current stone and prevention of future stone formation. Types of kidney stones include:
- Calcium stones: The most common type of kidney stones which is usually formed of calcium oxalate. Oxalates are naturally present in many foods (such as some fruit, vegetables, nuts, and chocolate).
- Uric acid stones: Particularly common in those consuming high protein diets or those who have gout.
- Struvite stones: which are formed due to buildup form infections of the urinary tract.
- Cysteine stones: A rare form caused by a certain hereditary condition called cystinuria.
Diagnosis of kidney stones
Small kidney stones can pass unnoticed in urine causing no symptoms and thus might not be diagnosed.
A doctor might request certain tests to diagnose kidney stones which include:
- Blood tests for the levels of calcium and uric acid in the blood.
- Urine tests (whether by analyzing a urine sample or collecting urine over 24 hours then analyzing it) for minerals that form stones or lack of naturally present substances that prevent stone formation.
- Imaging tests which include X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds of the abdomen. Some patients require imaging using contrast media (dye injection) to better visualize kidney stones called intravenous pyelogram or CT urogram.
- Analyzing stones passed in urine to identify their composition and thus their cause.
Treatment of kidney stones
Treatment varies depending on the size of the kidney stones and whether they are associated with symptoms.
- Small kidney stones causing minimal symptoms:
Small kidney stones usually cause no complications. The doctor will typically prescribe a pain killer to control that pain caused by the passage of the stones until they pass naturally in urine.
For stones to pass naturally, the doctor will encourage you to drink large amounts of water and occasionally might recommend intravenous (IV) hydration. The aim is to make you produce clear pale urine. IV hydration provided by Vida-Flo is valuable as the administration of a 1,000 mL saline bag is equivalent to drinking 2.5 gallons of water which a person can’t normally easily achieve by oral fluids.
Additionally, Vida-Flo solutions for kidney stones patients contain minerals, vitamins, and medications such as Toradol®, a safe and effective pain killer to help quickly relieve the painful symptoms caused by the passing of kidney stones.
In a few instances, a medication known as an alpha-blocker is prescribed. It works by relaxing muscles of the ureters to help the stones pass easily and with less pain.
- Larger kidney stones and those causing symptoms:
If a kidney stone is impacted due to its size – meaning that it got stuck in the kidney or ureter – or if it causes complications such as blood in urine, infections or changes in kidney functions, it may require surgery or a procedure to break-up the stone or remove it. These procedures include:
- Breaking up the stone using sound waves. This procedure is called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).
- Surgery to remove very large stones by a procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy.
- Using an endoscope that passes through the urethra to capture and/or break the stone.
Prevention of kidney stones
It is estimated that half of the people who had a kidney stone will experience another one within the following 5 years. For people at an increased risk of developing kidney stones, prevention is key. This is achieved by avoiding getting dehydrated and drinking plenty of fluids. This is especially important for those living in hot climates or those who exercise regularly. IV hydration, such as that provided by Vida-Flo may be helpful for such patients.
Not only does a single bag of Vida-Flo provide an equivalent of 2.5 gallons of water, but also provides minerals and vitamins in a precisely formulated formula that helps prevent kidney stones from being formed.
It is important for patients with kidney stones to keep their urine pale in color to avoid minerals and salts from forming stones.
Other lifestyle changes recommended to avoid developing kidney stones include:
- Avoiding foods rich in oxalates such as rhubarb, beets, okra, spinach, sweet potatoes, nuts, tea, chocolate, and soy.
- Avoiding fizzy drinks.
- Using salt substitutes.
- Consuming a low protein diet.
- Avoiding calcium supplements. However, keep in mind that consuming foods naturally rich in calcium is generally acceptable.
Occasionally, the doctor might prescribe medications to reduce the risk of developing stones and this depends on the type of kidney stone a person has. Medications include diuretics for calcium stones, allopurinol for uric acid stones, and antibiotics for struvite stones.