Renal lithiasis or nephrolithiasis, more commonly known as kidney stones are acid salts or mineral deposits in your kidneys. Kidney stones may be formed because of a wide variety of reasons. Although they typically do not cause any lasting damage, passing them tends to be a painful process for most people. In some cases, kidney stones may get stuck in the urinary tract, as a result of which surgery may be required.
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Causes: How Do You Get Kidney Stones?
Urine is a fluid waste by which we eliminate excess water, acids and minerals from our system. Most cases of kidney stones are caused by people who do not drink enough water. What happens in this case is that the minerals and acids in the urinary system become concentrated and parts of it may become crystallized over time. However, there may be other causes of kidney stones as well.
To get a comprehensive knowledge about the causes of kidney stones, you need to first understand the various types of kidney stones that may occur in humans:
- Calcium stones: This is the most common type of kidney stones, where there is too much calcium in the urine. This calcium is usually deposited in the form of calcium oxalate. There may be several reasons for this:
- Not drinking enough water, as stated earlier.
- Consuming too much food that has calcium oxalate in them such as chocolate, meat and eggs. Certain vegetables like spinach and parsley have a high concentration of oxalate as well!
- Taking calcium supplements even when you are getting enough calcium from your diet.
- Suffering from hypercalcuria, a congenital (inherited) disease that elevates the calcium levels in urine.
- A high concentration of Vitamin D. This is because Vitamin D serves as a carrier for calcium. If you consume more Vitamin D than your body can consume, it will be passed as urine, along with the excess calcium it is carrying.
- Hyperactivity of the parathyroid gland, which controls the level of calcium in your body.
- Chronic kidney disease or infections.
- Metabolic disorders that prevents your digestive system from processing calcium. This condition is exacerbated by a sedentary lifestyle. Having a light daily exercise regimen of about thirty minutes can go a long way towards reducing the risk of calcium stones.
- A rare inflammatory disorder called sarcoidosis.
- As a side effect of certain cancers.
- Struvite stones: This is more common in women than men. It is caused by certain urinary tract infections (UTIs). People suffering from this will grow stones really fast with almost no advanced warning. Struvite stones tend to be bigger than calcium stones.
- Uric acid stones: People may suffer from uric acid stones if they have a high concentration of uric acid in their urine. It may be caused by the following factors:
- Just like one of the most common causes of calcium stones, uric acid stones are caused when people do not drink enough water, increasing the concentration of uric acid in their urine.
- Consuming a high protein diet with a lot of meat and poultry.
- Certain metabolic disorders, such as gout that prevents the body from breaking down certain chemicals.
- Some people have a higher propensity towards having a high concentration of uric acid due to genetic factors.
- Chemotherapy increases the concentration of uric acid, which in turn may cause stones!
- Calcium stones: This is the most common type of kidney stones, where there is too much calcium in the urine. This calcium is usually deposited in the form of calcium oxalate. There may be several reasons for this:
- Cystine stones: This is pretty rare. It is formed in people who suffer from a genetic disorder called cystinuria, which causes the kidneys to process and eliminate higher concentration of certain amino acids along with their urine.
Kidney stones may also be formed because of other extremely rare conditions, discussing all of which is beyond the scope of this article.
One of the most disconcerting thing about kidney stones is that it takes a significant while for the symptoms to appear. As a matter of fact, one may usually start feeling the symptoms in case of the following:
- The kidney stone starts moving around the kidney.
- The stone enters the ureter.
- There is an infection in the kidney or the urinary tract.
If you are suffering from kidney stones, you will start displaying the following symptoms:
- A persistent pain below the ribs, on the side and on the back. Sometimes the pain is felt in the groin as well. Men may even feel the pain in the scrotum or their testes. The pain may be consistent or it may fluctuate within minutes or hours.
- Sufferer will be incredibly restless and will find it next to impossible to lay still.
- People may also suffer from nausea and general malaise. A large proportions of sufferers tend to vomit.
- Urination will be painful, yet frequent. The color of the urine may be brown, red or pink. The urine would be cloudy and may be accompanied with a rank smell. There may be some blood in the urine as well. This is caused by the kidney stone scratching against the surface of the kidney or the ureter.
- Fever with associated chills, which would indicate a kidney infection.
Home Remedies to Get Rid of Kidney Stones
Unfortunately kidney stones are an extremely common affliction. Although in exceptional circumstances, medical intervention or even surgery may be required, however most cases of kidney stones may be dissolved and naturally flushed with the following home remedies.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
The effectivity of apple cider vinegar (ACV) as a cure for kidney stones is dependent upon the size of the stones. Smaller the stone, there is a greater likelihood that it may be flushed out with the help of a home remedy using ACV. Anecdotal evidence suggests that long term use of ACV can also prevent kidney stones from being formed in the first place. There are several methods you can try to cure and prevent kidney stones with the help of ACV:
- ACV and Honey: You can mix two teaspoons of honey with one teaspoon of organic ACV and drink it multiple times during the course of the day till the stones are expelled from the body. Some may find the taste of this treatment to be a bit too strong for their liking. If you are one of them, feel free to mix this in a glass of water and drink it all in one gulp.
- ACV and Baking Soda: Sodium bicarbonate, more popularly known as baking soda can help break down uric acid stones by counteracting the uric acid in the first place. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when the two are mixed together, they form an even more potent concoction. Simply mix half a teaspoon of baking soda and two teaspoons of organic ACV into a glass of water and drink it daily till the stones are eliminated from the body, which should be in a few days.
For best results use organic ACV that has the “mother of vinegar” still in the package.
- Lemon Juice and Olive Oil
Lemon juice and olive oil are used not only to eliminate calcium stones but they can be used to eliminate stones from the gallbladder as well! This is because the citric acid in lemon helps break down the calcium stones and also prevents them from getting larger. The olive oil serves as a lubricant, making it easier for the sufferer to pass the stone. A word of caution: lemon juice and olive oil will only help if the stones are relatively small. Hence this treatment needs to be implemented as soon as one starts feeling the symptoms.
Simply take four tablespoons each of fresh squeezed lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil and mix them thoroughly. Drink this mixture, followed by copious amounts of water. This treatment should be applied three times a day for three days, or till you pass the stones, whichever is earlier. Please consult a physician if you are unable to pass the stones within three days.
- Water (Best for Prevention)
You will only find relief from kidney stones and associated pain if you pass it with your urine. This can only be guaranteed if you consume copious amounts of water. Not only water helps you pass kidney stones, but it also reduces the risk of kidney stones being formed in the first place. One surefire way of determining whether you are consuming enough water or not is to check the color of your urine. Ideally, your urine should have a very light yellowish tinge to it. If your urine is a dark yellow or even orange, then you are not consuming enough water and you are putting yourself at the risk of forming kidney stones.
- Uva ursi
Uva ursi (Arctostaphylos uva ursi), which is also known as bearberry grows naturally in the northern hemisphere, especially the United States. It is rich in tannins, flavonoids, piceosides and triterpenes, a unique concoction that helps soften your kidney stones. They also have anti-bacterial properties that helps protect your kidney and your urinary tract from secondary infections.
Uva ursi is available at your local health food store as a supplement or as a tea. Take 500 mg per day, three times a day or have three cups of uva ursi tea every day for three days. Consult your physician if you are unable to pass the stone within three days!
- Dandelion Root
Dandelion root is a highly effective natural remedy for kidney stones because of the following reasons:
- It is a diuretic, which means that it increases the quantity of urine and helps in its passage. This helps in the passage of kidney stones.
- It helps fortify your system against UTIs, as per a study published in the June 2011 issue of Journal of Ethnopharmocology.
Just like uva ursi, dandelion root can be consumed in a tea form or as a supplement and the dosage is exactly the same. There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggest that the dandelion root treatment should be used in conjunction with the uva ursi treatment for maximum benefits.
- Nettle Leaf
The leaf of the nettle herb has diuretic and anti-bacterial properties, making it another effective home remedy to help get rid of kidney stones. Simply use the nettle leaves to make a tea and drink it three times a day for up to three days.
Studies have shown that basil can help dislodge kidney stones from the kidney or the urethra, thus sending it on its way out of your body. You can steep about six basil leaves in boiling water to make some basil tea and drink it every morning. You can add a teaspoon of honey as a sweetener.
You can also chew on some basil leaves instead of having it as a tea. It has a bit of a strong taste, hence you can take some honey with it to make it more palatable.
- OTC Painkillers
Most case of kidney stones are accompanied with a severe, if not debilitating pain. There is no point in increasing your agony, hence you should try some over-the-counter (OTC) painkillers such as Advil or Ibuprofen. If you fail to find adequate relief from the same, you may need a prescription-strength painkiller. Please consult a physician in case you feel that is necessary.
If you do get prescribed with a painkiller, please make sure that you never exceed the recommended dosage and you should stop consuming them after you get rid of the kidney stones. This is because all prescription-strength painkillers carry a risk of addiction.
How Long does it take to Pass a Kidney Stone?
There are several factors that influence the time it takes to pass a kidney stone. The most common factors are the following:
- The size of the stone: The size of kidney stones vary greatly. Some may be as small as a grain of sand whereas they can even be as large as a golf ball. The larger the size of the stone, more difficult will it be to pass it. Statistical analysis show that kidney stones that are 4 mm in diameter or smaller have about an 80% chance of passing without any medical intervention. The probability drops to only 20% for kidney stones that have a diameter of 5 mm. Stones that are 9mm of larger need medical attention.
- The size of the person: The size of a person is relevant in the sense that larger a person is, bigger the size of the kidney stone tends to be. Because as the metabolism of people who are obese tends to be comparatively low, which reduces the metabolism of calcium oxalate, increasing the size of the calcium stones. Also research shows that the concentration of uric acid in the urine of an overweight person tends to be higher, thus increasing the size of the uric acid stone as well!
- The size of the prostrate: Besides being a symptom of prostate cancer, an enlarged prostate impedes the passage of urine, thus making it harder for kidney stones to pass. Unless the diameter of the stones are really small, it may be impossible to pass kidney stones without medical intervention in people with enlarged prostate.
- Pregnancy: An enlarged womb puts pressure on the urinary tract as well, almost the same way that an enlarged prostate does in men. The situation is extremely delicate in cases of pregnancy and should only be addressed under strict medical supervision.
If you are unable to pass the kidney stones with the help of the home remedies, then you would need to seek the help of a qualified medical professional. Depending upon the size of the kidney stone and your medical history, she may decide to pursue any of the following medical procedures.
- Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL)
ESWL is a medical term for using sound waves to break up kidney stones into smaller pieces so that they can be eliminated with urine. The procedure can last between 45 to 60 minutes and it may cause moderate to severe pain. Hence the sufferer may be under local or general anesthesia during the procedure.
There may be some blood in the urine after the procedure. This is caused by the abrasion of the stones against the kidney or the urinary tract.
This procedure is also knowns as retrograde intrarenal surgery (RIRS). This procedure is usually recommended when the kidney stone is stuck in the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney with the urinary bladder. In this procedure, the surgeon passes a tool called ureteroscope up through the urethra (the canal that eliminates urine), into the urinary bladder (the bag-like structure that stores the urine before it is eliminated) and from there up into the ureter, right up to the place where the kidney stone is stuck.
There is a camera attached to the end of the ureteroscope, which the physician uses to gauge the size of the kidney stone. Depending upon the size of the stone, the physician may use an attached laser to break up the stone into smaller pieces, so that they may be eliminated with urine. If the physician judges that such a strategy is not an option, then she may use a different tool to extract the stone manually.
This procedure can extract stones of up to 15 mm in diameter anywhere between 50 – 80% of the time.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)
This is used on people suffering from large stones, or if they are obese where ESWL is not an option because of the subcutaneous fat. This procedure consists of the following steps:
- The patient is put under general anesthesia.
- A small incision is made at the back.
- A nephroscope (a thin telescopic instrument) is inserted via the incision into the kidney.
- Depending upon the size of the stone, it is either manually extracted or broken up into smaller pieces.
PCNL is usually successful 86% of the time for kidney stones that are up to 30 mm in diameter. Patients are advised not to drive or operate heavy machinery for 48 hours after the procedure.
- Open surgery
Open surgery for kidney stones is extremely rare in this day and age. It is usually done in only 1% of patients suffering from kidney stones. These are usually performed because of extremely large stones, or any of the aforementioned methods fail because of some unusual anatomy.
- Parathyroid Gland Surgery
We had mentioned earlier in this article that hyperactivity in the parathyroid gland may be a cause for kidney stones. This usually happens when some tumors develop on the said glands, which is located just below the Adam’s apple. Surgical removal of the tumors from the gland stops the hyperactivity. The stones that have already been formed may be removed via any of the aforementioned methods.
Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones from Recurring
It may seem really frightening to know that there is no limit to the number of times you may suffer from kidney stones during your lifetime. If the factors that caused kidney stones the first time around are not eliminated then this affliction is bound to appear later on in life. That being said you can take the following steps to reduce the chances of this painful affliction from showing up again:
- Drink a Lot of Water
This is probably the easiest safeguards, just drink enough water! Water dilutes the calcium oxalate and uric acid to minimize the chances of them crystallizing into stones. Men should consume at least 2.2 liters of water (0.6 gallon) and women should drink at least 1.8 liters of water (0.5 gallons). People who live in tropical climates or those who are overweight should consume even more!
- Check the Amount of your Urine Input
Sometimes it may not be possible to keep track of the amount of fluids you consume during the day. Besides the color of your urine (as stated earlier in this article) the amount of urine that you produce can also be an indicator as to whether you are consuming enough water or not. A healthy adult produces anywhere between 40 – 45 oz. of urine in a day. Your local pharmacy probably carries a device to measure your urine output that can easily fit inside your toilet bowl.
- Minimize your Sugar Intake
Besides increasing your weight, sugar also reduces your body’s ability to consume calcium, thus putting you at the risk of calcium stones. The easiest way to do this is to eliminate soda from your diet altogether and replace the said intake with water. That being said, you are only human and there may be times when you may crave the sugary deliciousness of sodas a little too much. In such cases, drink something with a citrus base, such as 7UP or Sprite. However, you should never look at these drinks as a source of citric acid in your diet.
- Minimize your Processed Salt Intake
Processed foods, such as canned produce preserved in brine have a ridiculous amount of salt in it, which may increase that formation of calcium oxalate crystals in your kidneys. Please note that this warning is relevant for processed salts only. Unprocessed salt such as Himalayan salt is rich in essential minerals and should be consumed as normal.
- Avoid Foods that are High in Oxalate
As stated earlier in the article there are several foods that possess a high amount of oxalate such as meat, eggs and certain vegetables, which needs to be consumed in limited amounts only to reduce the risk of calcium stones. Following is a more comprehensive list that you can use as a ready reference when it comes to managing your diet to minimize the chances of kidney stones:
- Hot peppers
- Red meat (Beef, mutton etc.) – For the sake of maintaining a balanced diet, you should not completely eliminate this, however you should not consume more than 6 oz. per day.
- Tree nuts (Cashew, Brazil nuts, Macadamia etc.)
It is not suggested that all of the above should be eliminated complete from your diet. However they should only be consumed in limited amounts only, so that you have a balanced diet without increasing the risk of calcium stones.
As stated earlier in this article, a sedentary lifestyle slows down your metabolism, thus reducing your ability to absorb a wide variety of nutrients, including calcium. Try incorporating some light aerobics for about thirty minutes daily to ensure that your metabolism is working at peak levels.
- Check your Antacids
Many of the OTC antacids tend to have calcium in them, which increases the chances of calcium stones being formed. Please check the label and if that is indeed the case, then you need to consult your pharmacist for an alternate brand. If you are unable to find alternates on your own then consult a physician to discuss your options.
- Take more Vitamin A
Studies have shown that Vitamin A is essential towards maintaining a healthy kidney. They protect your body from UTIs as well as going a long way towards preventing the formation of kidney stones. Following vegetables are a great source of Vitamin A:
- Sweet potatoes
- Winter squash
If eating more of these veggies does not sound too appealing, then you may consider taking some Vitamin A supplements.
- Wheat Flour
Incorporating wheat flour tends to reduce the risk of kidney stones going forward. This is because wheat flour tends to contain magnesium and studies have shown that this mineral tends to reduce the chances of kidney stones being formed in the future.
The easiest way to incorporate more wheat flour in your diet would be to replace your white bread slices with brown bread during breakfast.
- Drink more Milk
We had earlier stated that having too much calcium in the diet increases the chances of kidney stones. However, recent studies have shown that not having enough calcium in your diet makes your body produce more oxalate, which in turn leads to kidney stones anyways. Hence the trick is not to eliminate calcium from your diet altogether, but to make sure that you are taking just the right amount, which is 1000 mg per day for an adult and 1200 mg per day for men over 70 and women over 50. Three glasses of milk roughly provide you with 1000 mg of calcium.
- Eat more Chicken
B vitamins, especially Vitamin B6 helps prevent the formation of calcium oxalate and also helps break down oxalate crystals into smaller particles. The recommended dosage is 25 mg per day, 2/3rds of which can be received by a 6 oz. serving of chicken. The difference can be made up with the help of supplements.
- Talk to a Doctor
Even if you get small kidney stones that are easily treated with the home remedies, it is good to consult a doctor anyways. Urinate through a mesh strainer so that you can collect the kidney stones and take them to your doctor. Your doctor will be able to analyze the stones and be able to tell you the type and how they were created in the first place. Once you know the cause, you can take steps to remedy that in the future.