For reasons yet unknown,kidney stones are three times more common in men than in women. They occur when the salts naturally found in urine crystallize and bind together. These stones can be present in the rest of the urinary system as well, including the kidneys themselves, the bladder or the urethra.
Symptoms of kidney stones
Most kidney stones are very small (the size of a grain of sand, in fact) and pass on their own through the urinary tract. When they are larger, however, (ranging from the size of a pea to a golf ball), they can cause significant back pain, which some women have compared to the intensity of labour pains. Some people may also experience nausea or have blood in their urine.
Causes of kidney stones
At this time, chronic dehydration has been identified as one of the only major causes of kidney stones. This occurs because dehydration leads to the slower elimination of salts in the urine, causing a build up.
Other factors may also be involved. These include:
- Certain diseases (i.e. celiac disease);
- Certain medications (i.e. diuretics or calcium-based antacids);
- Recurring urinary tract infections;
- Removal of a kidney;
- Consumption of calcium oxalate, which forms the majority of kidneys stones. (Spinach, beets, chocolate, tea and coffee are some of the foods that contain high levels of this substance).
Preventing kidney stones
Most preventive measures are intended for people who have already had kidney stones. Are you among them? Here are some tips.
- Drink plenty of fluids to stay well hydrated. Water is your best choice.
- Reduce your intake of proteins, which promote the crystallization of salts in the urine.
- Avoid foods that are rich in calcium oxalate and follow the dietary recommendations on calcium intake (when kidney stones are formed from this substance).
Treating kidney stones
Treatment varies according to the type of kidney stone. For smaller stones, the doctor will recommend taking medication to control the pain. He will also suggest drinking plenty of water. Generally, the stone will pass on its own within six weeks.
There are many other methods that can be used, depending on the type of stone, its size and location. For example, it can be broken into small fragments using a non-surgical technique that sends shockwaves directly to the stone. This allows it to pass more easily on its own.
When the stone cannot be eliminated using the above technique, surgery becomes necessary. The stone will then be crushed using either laser or electric energy or it will be extracted altogether. This type of surgery involves a hospital stay of a few days.
Do you have questions about kidney stones and their treatment? Talk to your pharmacist. He’s there to help!