Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms, Types & Prevention

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Kidney stones, also known as nephrolithiasis or renal calculi, are hard formations of minerals like calcium and uric acid that arise in the kidneys and bladder under specific conditions. Kidney stones are created over time and eventually consolidate into tough enough objects that they can only be passed through the urethra or broken up through other methods. It is rare for kidney stones to pass fully or dissolve after forming. 

Because kidney stones are hard objects in your bladder, they can cause severe discomfort and pain if left untreated. It’s always a good idea to prevent kidney stones from forming in the first place if possible, although there are ways to deal with kidney stones if you are unlucky enough to get them. Small stones are more likely to pass on their own than large stones, which require to be removed by a healthcare worker. 

Kidney Stone Types

Kidney stones come in five major types:

  • Calcium oxalate stones are the most common by far and can technically be separated into two more types of stones: calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate stones. Calcium stones form because people have too much calcium in their urine, which causes the calcium to concentrate over time
  • Uric acid stones, which arise due to higher concentrations of this waste product in your urine
  • Struvite stones are also called infection stones. People typically get these types of kidney stones if they have a urinary tract infection or UTI
  • Cystine stones, which form when there is too much cystine in the blood. Cystine is an amino acid that can sometimes build up when your kidneys don’t reabsorb it from your urine
  • Renal colic is a type of kidney stone where a stone becomes stuck in the urinary system

What Causes Kidney Stones?

Regardless of the exact type, all kidney stones form from your urine and can affect your overall kidney function. Typical urine includes multiple waste products like uric acid, calcium, and so on. If there are too many waste products in the liquid medium of your urine, crystals can start to form, attracting other hard elements and joining together to form a solid substance that’s very difficult for your body to get rid of.

In most cases, your kidneys eliminate these chemicals and prevent kidney stones from forming. But sometimes your kidneys can’t manage the job, whether because there are too many of the tough compounds in your system already or because there’s a problem with your kidneys themselves. If a kidney stone doesn’t pass on its own, a procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy will be used to remove the stones. 

Most people get kidney stones because of poor diets. Eating too many unclean sources of salt, calcium, and other elements can make kidney stones much more likely.

Kidney Stone Risk Factors

If you don’t know if you are at risk for developing a kidney stone, the below are some factors to consider:

  • Diet: If you have any dietary restrictions or eat a restrictive diet, be sure to consult with your doctor on what you can eat if you are prone to kidney stones.
  • Dehydration: Be sure to drink plenty of fluids by increasing fluid intake to avoid damaging your kidneys. Drinking enough water can make a difference in your overall health. 
  • Family History: If someone in your family has had a kidney stone, there is a higher chance that you may develop one down the line.
  • Supplements and Medications: Calcium is in many supplements and medications. Too much of these can cause stone formation. 
  • Pre-existing medical conditions that have an increased risk for kidney infection.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Either way, kidney stones cause a host of uncomfortable symptoms, including:

  • Severe pain in your sides or around your lower back
  • More pain around your stomach or intestinal area
  • Issues with the urinary system such as hematuria (blood in the urine), cloudy urine, blocked flow of urine, and painful urination 
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Fever and chills
  • These symptoms occur when the kidney stones cause blockage or irritation of your sensitive organs like your bladder. But although kidney stones can feel quite bad, they usually pass without causing lasting damage. 

Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones

Even though kidney stones are unlikely to cause any long-term complications (with some rare exceptions), it’s still a good idea to prevent kidney stones. No one wants to go through the excruciating pain of passing a particularly big kidney stone even once!

Kidney stones can be detected by imaging tests such as CT Scan and x-rays can show the location of kidney stones in your urinary tract. Doctors sometimes request tests such as blood tests and urine tests to evaluate what the kidney stone is made of and how it formed.  A Ureteroscopy is a procedure used when a kidney stone is present in the ureter and helps a surgeon see where the stone is located using a ureteroscope so that it may be removed. 

So, how can you prevent kidney stones from popping up in your future? There are a few preventive ways you can focus on starting today.

For starters, be sure that you drink enough fluids each day. If your body doesn’t produce enough urine, it’s easy for the crystalline waste products to gather together and form kidney stones. Try to drink about three liters of detoxicated water each day.

But you should also focus on your nutrition. Try to reduce your processed sodium intake, as more processed sodium can lead to a high amount of calcium or cystine deposits in your body. Salt itself is not bad but processed salt is. For example, try to track your consumption of foods like:

  • Salty chips and other snacks
  • Processed Cheese
  • Frozen foods
  • Salted meats, animal protein from processed sources
  • Salad dressings with rancid oils and added sugars
  • Synthetic dietary calcium found in supplements 

All of these foods may contain way more processed salt than you imagine. Adjust your nutrition and aim for more green vegetables and raw fruit for better benefits. In fact, those at risk of kidney stones should eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables each day, as many top fruits and vegetables include vitamins and minerals like potassium, magnesium, fiber, and antioxidants. All of these can stop kidney stones from forming.

You may also want to look at your calcium intake. As long as calcium supplements and calcium rich foods are eaten WITH greens leafy foods then the risk of a stone should be minimized. So as a rule if consuming or enjoying dairy add in some greens. If you’re taking a calcium supplement for a health condition, cut down on that supplement and be sure you aren’t eating too many processed dairy products as well. Organic, grass fed, and raw sources of these meat and dairy foods are ideal and remember your greens. 

Treatment Options for Kidney Stones at Home

There’s still a chance you might get kidney stones even with practicing preventive measures. Some people are just more genetically likely to get stones from time to time.

If that’s the case for you, you can manage kidney stones through healthy and holistic methods like:

  • Magnesium Citrate, B6 and Potassium. Make sure you’re getting adequate magnesium and vitamin B6 in your diet, as these nutrients may help prevent kidney stone formation. Also the combination of potassium citrate and magnesium citrate has also been shown in studies to be “an effective countermeasure for the increased risk of renal stone disease associated with immobilization.” Another study found potassium/magnesium citrate “effectively prevents recurrent calcium oxalate stones,” and when taken for up to three years can reduce your risk of a recurrence by 85%.
  • Hydration is key, especially with kidney stones. If you’re not getting enough water (half of your body weight in ounces per day), your body will struggle to flush out toxins and to dilute substances that contribute to kidney stones. Drinking plenty of water will also help when passing kidney stones.
  • Adding lemon juice to water and drinking regularly. Lemons and other citrus fruits like limes contain citrate. Citrate can break down calcium and prevent your kidney stones from getting too large before they pass
  • Drinking water with basil juice. Basil includes acetic acid; a key acid that can provide your body with helpful nutrients and breakdown kidney stones
  • Drink apple cider vinegar, which can flush out your kidneys and which also contains acetic acid, just like basil juice
  • Eat kidney bean broth. This traditional dish can improve your overall urinary and kidney health, plus dissolve kidney stones that may have already formed

However, remember that you should go see a doctor if your kidney stones become uncomfortable or so painful that you are unable to move or take care of yourself. Medical centers can provide more advanced kidney stone treatments, such as breaking up the stones using ultrasonic waves and other technologies. 

Summary

All in all, kidney stones are uncomfortable but usually preventable. Even if you get a few small kidney stones, you can usually take care of them yourself by adjusting your diet and consuming specific beverages or foods. Remember to watch your nutrition and kidney stones will be a lot less likely to form in your future!

Dr. Livingood, yes that is his real name, is the Founder of drlivingood.com natural health site and also the founder of Livingood Daily. He has authored two Amazon #1 Best Selling Books Livingood Daily and Make Food Simple. In 2007 after nearly losing his father to health conditions, Dr. Livingood was prompted to find a health care system to save his father’s life. Where medicine failed Dr. Livingood discovered solutions that got his father off 15 medications and overcame major heart and autoimmune conditions. As a Doctor of Natural Medicine and DC he now serves thousands of people in Morrisville, NC, and millions through his online and media presence. Dr. Livingood, his wife Jessica, and three kids spend their lives leading people nationally and locally in the hopes that others can experience real health.

Sources

Kidney Stone Facts | Kidney.org

Kidney Stone Treatment | Urology Health

Preventing Kidney Stones | Harvard Health

Kidney Stone Diagnosis | Mayo Clinic 

Symptoms of Kidney Stones | Mayo Clinic  

Diagnosing Kidney Stones | NIH    

Magnesium and Kidney Stones | NIH

Magnesium, Potassium, and Kidney Stones | NIH

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