Kidney stones are a painful bladder and urinary condition that can affect people for a number of reasons. Some individuals are more at risk for developing kidney stones due to diet, lifestyle choices or simple hereditary factors. If you suspect you might have kidney stones, you may have several questions. What are kidney stones? What are the symptoms and causes of kidney stones? Is there a way to detect them before they become problematic? Let’s take a look at some facts about kidney stones.
What Are Kidney Stones?
The kidneys filter waste, extra fluid, salt and minerals from the body, which then exit the body in the form of urine. Some of these things are excess calcium, phosphate, and oxalate. Sometimes, this waste, salt and tiny minerals will bind together before being expelled from the body. These collections of hard deposits are what we refer to as kidney stones.
Some of these crystals are the size and consistency of a grain of sand or a tiny pebble. They wash out of the body, and you’ll never know they were there. It’s when the crystals form a larger stone, about the size of a pencil eraser or bigger, that the problems begin. Large kidney stones cause pain that often radiates throughout the hips and lower back until the stones pass.
What are Some Types Of Kidney Stones?
Although “kidney stone” is a widely defined term, there are different types within this general group. Depending on which kind of kidney stone you have, your treatment may differ based on what they are made of, their size and location. Here are the common types of kidney stones:
Calcium Stones – Calcium phosphate and calcium oxalate are the most common types of kidney stones. Excess calcium not used by bones and muscle are sent to the kidneys for passage out of the body. This calcium can accumulate and bind together to form a kidney stone.
Uric Acid Stones – This type of kidney stone is formed by too much acid in the urine. This can come from eating too much shellfish and organ meat.
Cystine Stones – These kidney stones are typically the result of a genetic disorder called cystinuria. They’re caused by the amino acid cystine leaking from the kidneys into the urine.
Struvite Stones – Urinary tract infections (UTI) can sometimes result in struvite kidney stones. They can develop quickly and become quite large without warning.
If you have kidney stones, it’s ideal to catch them early and seek treatment right away. A doctor’s analysis of the stone can tell the patient why it formed and what to do to prevent another from forming.
What are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
Some people with tiny kidney stones may not even notice that they have them. However, others with large kidney stones will often develop clear signs that something isn’t right. Generally, the larger the kidney stone, the more severe the symptoms.
Here are the most common symptoms of kidney stones:
Terrible lower back pain that radiates through the hips
Severe pain on either side of the lower back
Blood in the urine
Burning or stinging sensation while urinating
Nausea and vomiting
The urge to urinate but are unable
Discolored or cloudy urine
An unusual or foul-smelling urine
A stomach ache that won’t seem to go away
Keep in mind that you may not have all of these symptoms if you have kidney stones. In fact, you may only experience one or two at a time. However, almost all patients suffering from kidney stones will develop severe or sharp pains in the lower back, sides or just below the ribs. This pain may fluctuate and come in waves and spread through the groin area as well.
If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms and suspect you may be suffering from kidney stones, you should confirm your diagnosis and seek treatment with a medical professional. A low-dose CT scan is an excellent way of detecting kidney stones early, ensuring treatment can start right away.
Common Causes Of Kidney Stones
Although there is no single, definite cause linked to kidney stones, there are factors and life choices that can put you at a higher risk of developing kidney stones in your lifetime. Here are some of those risk factors:
Family History – If you have family members who suffer from kidney stones, it’s more likely that you will also develop kidney stones. Your genetics may be more prone to cystine kidney stones, which result from a hereditary disorder.
Personal History – People who have already had kidney stones before are more likely to have them again versus others who never developed kidney stones.
Certain Dietary Choices – Diets that are high in sodium, in particular, increase your risk of kidney stones. The excess salt elevates the amount of calcium being filtered through your kidneys, making kidney stones more likely.
Dehydration – If you don’t have enough water in your system to flush out filtered waste from your body, your chances of developing kidney stones go up significantly. Be sure to drink water daily and consume more if you’re in a hot, dry climate.
Obesity – Obesity can put you at risk for several health problems, and kidney stones are one of them. Excess weight around the belly has been linked to an increased risk of developing kidney stones.
Specific Supplements or Medications – Be sure to take supplements or over-the-counter medications in moderation if they warn of kidney stones as a possible side effect.
There are other risk factors for developing kidney stones, such as digestive diseases or surgery that might change the way your body absorbs water or calcium. You may also have a diet that promotes the growth of kidney stones without knowing it. The key is to detect kidney stones as early as possible to avoid the painful symptoms that come along with them.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Kidney Stones
In order to successfully treat kidney stones, healthcare professionals need to know the exact size, shape and position of the kidney stones. This can be done using a low-dose CT scan that can detect the kidney stones using painless, non-invasive imaging of the inside of your bladder, kidneys and urinary tract. The CT scan is able to get detailed images in seconds with a minimal amount of radiation.
Once the kidney stones are located, your doctor will decide the best treatment. This could include using shock wave treatment to break up the stones, so they are easier to pass through the ureter in the urine. However, in some cases, larger kidney stones or ones that cannot be broken up may need to be surgically removed.
Ways to Help Prevent Kidney Stones
Overall, staying hydrated, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise can often help reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. Making healthier life choices can help you avoid the pain and inconvenience of having to deal with recurring kidney stones and their symptoms.
Try to drink at least two liters of water every day. This helps to flush out impurities in the urine so stones won’t form. Avoid salt and refined white sugar, including pre-packaged or processed foods, canned soups, and overly salty or sweet snacks. Instead, opt for fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats like poultry or fish, and reduce your intake of red meat and deli meat.
Staying active will also help reduce your risk of developing kidney stones by regulating your weight. Obesity is a significant risk factor, so getting moderate exercise will help reduce your chances of suffering from kidney stones.
Being Proactive With Your Health
If you experience any of the symptoms of kidney stones, or if you have a family history of kidney stones, it’s time to be proactive. You can take control of your health by scheduling a preventative CT scan to detect kidney stones as early as possible. Preventative Diagnostic Center in Las Vegas knows that a successful treatment plan depends on an early diagnosis. This is why we offer safe and affordable low-dose CT scans to help you live the healthiest life you can. Contact us today to learn more about our early-detection kidney stone CT scans or our other preventative scans, including heart, lung and full-body scans.
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Dr. John J. Pierce is the Medical Director at Preventative Diagnostic Center. He is Board-certified in Emergency Medicine as well as Board-certified by the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine. He received his medical training from Western University of Health Sciences, College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific, in Pomona California. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition to his regular practice, Dr. Pierce serves as a Tactical Physician with the Las Vegas SWAT team.