Improve kidney function by knowing what causes kidney stones and the different treatments available.
In this article:
- What Are Kidney Stones?
- What Do Kidney Stones Look Like?
- What Are the Types of Kidney Stones?
- What Foods Cause Kidney Stones?
- What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Having Kidney Stones?
- Can Stress Cause Kidney Stones?
- What Are the Signs of Kidney Infection?
- Can Kidney Stones Kill You?
- What Is the Best Treatment for Kidney Stones?
- How Do You Prevent Kidney Stones?
- Where Can I Get Treatment For A Kidney Stone?
What Causes Kidney Stones: Frequently Asked Questions
What Are Kidney Stones?
To understand what causes kidney stones, it’s best to answer the most basic question: what are kidney stones?
One of the biggest misconceptions is they look like real-life stones. In reality, they are a hard mass of deposits that accumulate in the kidneys.
The deposits are made up of crystal-forming substances:
- Uric acid
These deposits can stick unto the kidney walls for different reasons, especially lack of enough fluids.
What Do Kidney Stones Look Like?
The appearance of the kidney stones can differ from one person to another. Some of them are too small they pass during urination.
They can also be as large as a corn kernel or a pearl. These are already large so they can cause kidney pain or inflammation later on.
They may also move to different parts of the urinary tract, such as the bladder and ureter, blocking the flow of urine.
The stones look like crystals and may be shiny or dull, rough or smooth. It all depends on what comprises the mass.
What Are the Types of Kidney Stones?
The type of stone depends on what builds up in the kidneys:
- Calcium Stones – They are the most common and are likely to occur due to a diet high in sodium, sugar, and protein. It develops when calcium binds with oxalate and phosphorus, which are naturally occurring in some foods.
- Cystine Stones – They are the least common, but they have a genetic risk. They develop when the body has high levels of cystine, a type of amino acid that the body absorbs poorly.
- Uric Acid Stones – They can appear when the urine becomes acidic.
- Struvite Stones – They may develop when the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections metabolize and release ammonia. The chemicals that compose it can build up in the urine.
What Foods Cause Kidney Stones?
Diet is mainly what causes kidney stones. People can get kidney stones when they eat too much of the following:
- Foods rich in oxalate such as spinach, beets, cocoa powder, okra, raspberries, and some types of nuts such as almonds
- Foods high in sodium or salt such as canned food, processed food, junk food, and fast food
- Animal proteins, especially red meat, since it can increase uric acid
- Food with high levels of phosphorus such as organ meats, eggs and dairy, and seafood
- Those that contain additives and preservatives
- Sodas, other sweetened beverages, and alcohol
Note that diet is not the only answer to the question. These are also other risk factors:
- Previous kidney infection, disease, or stone
- Chronic dehydration
- Obesity, diabetes, and hypertension
- Urinary tract conditions like polycystic kidney disease
- Certain formulations of antibiotics, diuretics, and supplements
- Overactive parathyroid glands
What are the parathyroid glands? These are four small glands inside the neck that help regulate the body’s calcium levels.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Having Kidney Stones?
These are the common kidney stone symptoms:
- Painful urination
- Sharp stabbing pain in the lower back or abdomen
- Feelings of nausea
- Difficulty in urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Feeling of fullness in the abdomen or the urge to urinate often
- Weight loss
- Pain that radiates from the back to the groin and the abdomen
- Foul-smelling urine (it may smell like ammonia)
- Cloudy or foamy urine
RELATED: What is Male Urinary Incontinence?
Can Stress Cause Kidney Stones?
According to the National Kidney Foundation, stress can also cause the formation of kidney stones.
During a stressful situation, the body undergoes many changes as a response. These include increased heart rate, blood pressure, and blood sugar or glucose.
All these happen because of the fight-or-flight response, a condition where the body feels it is under threat. Increasing these biomarkers can increase a person’s alertness when they need to make decisions quickly.
The problem arises when the body experiences chronic stress. In which case, the levels of blood sugar, heart rate, and blood pressure are higher than average.
This can damage the blood vessels, which, in turn, can cut off the supply of blood, oxygen, and other fluids to the kidneys. These bean-shaped organs are, then, left with meager amounts of water and nutrients, leading to dehydration in the long run.
What Are the Signs of Kidney Infection?
Kidney infection may occur when what causes the kidney stones linger in the body. This is so as the filtering function of these organs weaken when deprived of water, oxygen, and nutrients.
The bacteria that grow can travel toward the organs and cause inflammation.
Apart from the signs and symptoms of kidney stones, these can manifest when there is infection in the urinary tract:
- Body malaise or weakening
- Smelly discharge from the urethra
Can Kidney Stones Kill You?
Kidney stones can be life-threatening. First, they can block the passage of urine which is the body’s main outlet for flushing out toxins and other foreign substances.
Second, they can increase the risk of sepsis or systemic infection, affecting the different parts of the body through the bloodstream. If left unmanaged, this can lead to multiple organ failure.
What Is the Best Treatment for Kidney Stones?
The right treatment for kidney stones depends on the severity of the condition and kind of kidney stones. A doctor, such as a nephrologist or a urologist, can provide an accurate treatment plan based on the diagnosis.
Some of the possible therapies include:
- Fluid therapy – This process involves drinking lots of fluids to help push the kidney stones out of the body. These work better when the mass deposits are small.
- Shockwave Lithotripsy – It is a process that involves using shockwaves to break down the large stones into smaller ones. This way, they are easier to pass through urine.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy – It is a surgical procedure involving a small incision in the lower back to access the stones using small instruments. It is usually the last resort in the treatment process.
- Ureteroscopy – It works like a combination of percutaneous nephrolithotomy and shockwave lithotripsy. The doctor makes an incision in the lower back, uses a tube with a camera to see the stones, and then breaks the stones into smaller pieces.
These procedures usually involve general anesthesia to reduce the pain. Depending on the procedure, the patient may stay overnight in the hospital for observation.
The recovery period can be as long as a few weeks. Right after the procedure, the patient may develop bruising in the lower back, blood in the urine, and pain and discomfort.
How Do You Prevent Kidney Stones?
To reduce the risk of having kidney stones, consider the following:
- Drink lots of fluids every day. Aim for at least 8 glasses.
- Avoid diuretics, such as cola and sweetened beverage.
- Lessen the amount of salt, sugar, and preservatives in your diet.
- Be cautious when taking supplements and medications. Follow doctor’s advice.
- Consume less animal protein.
- Eat whole foods as much as possible.
What causes kidney stones can range from diet to genetics. Thus, a healthy lifestyle is of utmost importance.
For those who may already have kidney stones, there are treatment options available. Consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis and an appropriate treatment plan.
Where Can I Get Treatment For A Kidney Stone?
You can seek a Urologist for kidney stone removal, or talk to your primary care physician to point you in the right direction. Our trained and experienced medical professionals at Midwest Urological Group can treat patients in Peoria Illinois, and surrounding areas.
If you have any questions or would like to schedule an appointment for kidney stone removal and treatment in Peoria, IL, call Midwest Urological Group at (309) 692-9898.