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A to Z Health Guide: Kidney Stones

Ah, summer. A time for relaxation, barbeques, walks on the beach…. or a quick trip to the ER. That’s right. Summertime in the United States calls for a greater chance of developing kidney stones due to the rise in temperatures and humidity. In this heat, we can forget to drink as much water as we should, or we aren’t taking in the “correct” fluids.

What “causes” kidney stones?

Though kidney stones often don’t have a definite, single cause, there are select factors that can increase your chances for developing one. Each year, 3.8 million people are affected by kidney stones. These stones are described as hard deposits made of minerals and salt that form inside your kidneys. These minerals come together and crystalize within, forming a stone that varies in size.

In addition, there are several types of kidney stones: 1.) Calcium stones; 2.) struvite stones; 3.) uric acid stones; and 4.) cystine stones. Most often, calcium stones are the main culprit. These stones form from calcium oxalate, which is a naturally occurring substance found in foods and made daily by the liver. However, as mentioned, with the decrease in fluid intake during the summer, uric acid stones become a hazard. These stones can form in those who do not drink enough water or fluids or have a protein-rich diet or gout. 

Physical Signs and Symptoms:

Most stones fortunately can be passed on their own. However, the pain associated with stones comes once they move from the kidney through the ureter to bladder. At that point, some may experience:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain on urination
  • Pink, red, or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present
  • Urinating small amounts

Tips for Avoiding or Coping with Kidney Stones:

Treatment for kidney stones varies depending on the size of the stone and its cause. Typically, small stones will not require an invasive route and can be passed with the help of:

  • Drinking 2 to 3 quarts of water a day until the stone passes
  • Using pain relievers such as ibuprofen to offset the pain
  • Using medical therapy, such as an alpha blocker to help relax the muscles in the ureter to pass the stone more quickly and with less pain

If the stone is too big or cannot be treated with those measures, more extensive treatment may be required.

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) & Stents

Depending on the size of the stone or its location, Dr. Lamia Gabal would recommend using a method called Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy, or ESWL. These sound waves are used to create strong vibrations to break apart the stones into tiny pieces. This allows the bladder to easily pass the stones through urine.

Another method to remove larger stones is by using a thin tube, an ureteroscope, that is equipped with a small light and camera through your urethra and bladder into the ureter. Once the stone is located, a special tool is used to break it into smaller pieces so that it can be passed through the urine more efficiently. Because this method is slightly more invasive, Dr. Gabal would go about placing a stent in the ureter to relive swelling and promote healing.

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