What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are solid masses made of crystals. Kidney stones usually originate in your kidneys. However, they can develop anywhere along your urinary tract, which consists of these parts:
Kidney stones are one of the most painful medical conditions. The causes of kidney stones vary according to the type of stone.
Types of kidney stones
Not all kidney stones are made up of the same crystals. The different types of kidney stones include:
1. Calcium– Calcium stones are the most common. They’re often made of calcium oxalate (though they can consist of calcium phosphate or maleate). Eating fewer oxalate-rich foods can reduce your risk of developing this type of stone. High-oxalate foods include: potato chips, peanuts, chocolate, beets and spinach
However, even though some kidney stones are made of calcium, getting enough calcium in your diet can prevent stones from forming.
2. Uric acid- This type of kidney stone is more common in men than in women. They can occur in people with gout or those going through chemotherapy.
This type of stone develops when urine is too acidic. A diet rich in purines can increase urine’s acidic level. Purine is a colourless substance in animal proteins, such as fish, shellfish, and meats.
3. Struvite- This type of stone is found mostly in women with urinary tract infections (UTIs). These stones can be large and cause urinary obstruction. They result from a kidney infection. Treating an underlying infection can prevent the development of struvite stones.
4. Cystine- Cystine stones are rare. They occur in both men and women who have the genetic disorder cystinuria. With this type of stone, cystine — an acid that occurs naturally in the body — leaks from the kidneys into the urine.
Risk factors for kidney stones:
- The greatest risk factor for kidney stones is making less than 1 litre of urine per day. This is why kidney stones are common in premature infants who have kidney problems. However, kidney stones are most likely to occur in people between the ages of 20 and 50.
- Gender also plays a role. More men than women develop kidney stones, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
- A history of kidney stones can increase your risk. So does a family history of kidney stones.
- A diet with high levels of protein, salt, or glucose.
- Taking medications such as triamterene diuretics, antiseizure drugs, and calcium-based antacids.
Other risk factors include:
- hyperparathyroid condition
- gastric bypass surgery
- inflammatory bowel diseases that increase calcium absorption
Recognizing the symptoms and signs of a kidney stone:
Kidney stones are known to cause severe pain. Symptoms of kidney stones may not occur until the stone begins to move down the ureters. This severe pain is called renal colic. You may have pain on one side of your back or abdomen.
Other symptoms of kidney stones can include:
- Blood in the urine (red, pink, or brown urine)
- Discoloured or foul-smelling urine
- High fever
- Frequent need to urinate
- Urinating small amounts of urine
In the case of a small kidney stone, you may not have any pain or symptoms as the stone passes through your urinary tract.
Why kidney stones can be a problem?
Stones don’t always stay in the kidney. Sometimes they pass from the kidney into the ureters. Ureters are small and delicate, and the stones may be too large to pass smoothly down the ureter to the bladder. Passage of stones down the ureter can cause spasms and irritation of the ureters. This causes blood to appear in the urine.
Sometimes stones block the flow of urine. This is called a urinary obstruction. Urinary obstructions can lead to kidney infection and kidney damage.
Testing and diagnosing kidney stones:
Diagnosis of kidney stones requires a complete health history assessment and a physical exam. Other tests include:
- blood tests for calcium, phosphorus, uric acid, and electrolytes
- blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine to assess kidney functioning
- urinalysis to check for crystals, bacteria, blood, and white cells
- abdominal X-rays
- intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
- retrograde pyelogram
- ultrasound of the kidney (the preferred test)
- MRI scan of the abdomen and kidneys
- abdominal CT scan
How kidney stones are treated
Treatment is tailored according to the type of stone. Urine can be strained and stones collected for evaluation. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day increases urine flow. People who are dehydrated or have severe nausea and vomiting may need intravenous fluids.
Other treatment options include:
Medication: Pain relief may require narcotic medications. The presence of infection requires treatment with antibiotics.
Lithotripsy: Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy uses sound waves to break up large stones so they can more easily pass down the ureters into your bladder. This procedure can be uncomfortable and may require light anaesthesia. It can cause bruising on the abdomen and back and bleeding around the kidney and nearby organs.
Tunnel surgery (percutaneous nephrolithotomy): A surgeon removes the stones through a small incision in your back. A person may need this procedure when the stone causes obstruction and infection or is damaging the kidneys and pain is uncontrollable.
Ureteroscopy: When a stone is stuck in the ureter or bladder, your doctor may use an instrument called a ureteroscope to remove it. A small wire with a camera attached is inserted into the urethra and passed into the bladder. The doctor then uses a small cage to snag the stone and remove it. The stone is then sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Kidney stone prevention:
- Proper hydration is a key preventive measure. It is recommended to drinking enough water to pass about 2.6 quarts of urine each day. Increasing the amount of urine you pass helps flush the kidneys.
- You can substitute ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, and fruit juice for water to help you increase your fluid intake.
- If the stones are related to low citrate levels, citrate juices could help prevent the formation of stones.
- Eating oxalate-rich foods in moderation and reducing your intake of salt and animal proteins can also lower your risk of kidney stones.
As we say prevention is better than cure. Have plenty og water to save yourself from any such dangerous disease.
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