Kidney Stones: Painful, Preventable, and Not Just for Older Men

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Kidney stones used to be a problem mainly for older white men who were overweight and didn’t eat a healthy diet. But that profile is starting to change, with kidney stone rates rising in younger people, women, and African Americans, according to Dr. Keith Lamy, at Austin family practice medicine clinic.

And overall, more people are getting kidney stones, with about 10% of people in the United States now developing them. In the past, rates were about 3% in the 70s, and 5% in the 90s. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what is causing the trend, or if it may partially reflect greater detection of stones by new technology.

Kidney stones form in a variety of ways, and several factors can boost your risk for developing them. When calcium, uric acid, or other chemicals crystallize in your urine they can become hard deposits. In come cases, dehydration causes urine to become too concentrated and unable to dilute deposits. Urine may also lack substances to keep crystals from sticking together, creating ideal conditions for forming stones.

Usually, stones don’t cause permanent damage. In many cases, you can flush a small stone out of your system by drinking lots of water and taking medication for pain. But when stones become lodged in the kidney, bladder, or other parts of the urinary system they can cause great pain and other problems. They may block urine flow, cause infections and bleeding, and even damage the kidneys.

You may experience pain during urination, increased urination, vomiting and nausea, sharp pain in the back or abdomen, or urine that is cloudy, foul-smelling, or has an unusual color. Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you should see a doctor or go to an emergency room for treatment. If your doctor believes you have a kidney stone, he may order blood, urine, and imaging tests to detect problems.

Large stones that cause harm or don’t pass on their own may need more extensive or urgent treatment. Physicians use sound waves to smash deposits into pieces, or tubes and scoping tools to surgically remove a stone. Anesthesia is usually required and a visit to the hospital may be needed. If you’ve had one stone, you’re more likely to develop others. If you can determine what type of stone you have, you can help reduce your chance of getting more of them. So if you flush out a stone, it’s a good idea to bring it to your doctor for review.

Most kidney stones are calcium deposits, caused by too much calcium or oxalate in your urine. High calcium levels can be caused by diet, metabolic disorders, or high does of Vitamin D. People who are dehydrated may develop uric acid stones. These can also form in people who have gout or who eat a diet high in protein. Other stones may form as a result of an infection in the urinary tract. Sometimes, these develop quickly, with few symptoms.

Cystine stones are less common, and may form in people with a hereditary disorder that causes their kidneys to excrete high levels of amino acids. You are more likely to develop a kidney stone if you don’t drink enough water or you eat lots of animal protein, sugar, or sodium. People who are overweight or who have gout or diabetes are also more apt to have them. Taking the incorrect calcium supplements can also put you at greater risk. The best prevention is to drink plenty of water each day, cut back on salt and sugar, and eat a healthy diet. In some cases, medications can control the level of acidity or alkalinity of the urine, impeding crystal formation.

If you suspect you have a kidney stone, schedule a consultation with Dr. Lamy, or report to a hospital for any severe pain, discomfort, or bleeding. Dr. Lamy can evaluate your symptoms, order tests, and assess your treatment options.

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