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Reduce your risk for kidney stones

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By Dr. Katherine Jett

If you have ever had a kidney stone, you won’t soon forget the experience. Kidney stones can cause pain so intense some say it’s almost as bad as childbirth. It is estimated that one in ten individuals will have a kidney stone at some point in his or her life.

Kidney stones are solid pieces of material that form in the kidney when there are high levels of certain substances in the urine. Urine is made in the kidney then passes through a small tube called the ureter and into the bladder.

From the bladder, urine goes through the urethra and out of the body. Stones that stay in the kidney don’t usually cause problems. However, when stones move through the small tubes of the ureters, a little pebble can bring down the toughest of the tough.

Symptoms that may be associated with kidney stones include waves of pain in the back or side that come and go. It may be difficult to urinate or the urine may have blood in it, be cloudy, or have a strong odor. Some people have nausea and vomiting with kidney stones, too.

Kidney stones are caused by high levels of calcium, oxalate, or phosphorus in the urine. Some people have higher levels of these substances in their urine from their diet and some just have bodies that make urine higher in these components. Dehydration or recurrent bladder infections can make stones more likely to form. Blockages in the urinary tract, digestive problems, certain medications and a family history of kidney stones are also risk factors for formation of stones.

Kidney stones can come in all shapes and sizes. Usually a urine test and CT scan are needed to diagnose kidney stones. If you pass a stone, the stone can be sent for analysis so that you know what kind of stone you had. Stones containing calcium are the most common.

Usually any extra calcium not used by the body is flushed out in the urine, but those who have extra calcium that stays in the kidneys are more likely form stones. Uric acid stones are associated with people who eat lots of meat, fish, or shellfish. Struvite stones are most common after a kidney infection. Cystine stones are more likely to be related to a genetic link in families.

The treatment of kidney stones varies with the size and complications. Small kidney stones will often pass by flushing the kidneys out with fluid and do not require surgery. Larger stones or stones causing blockages in the urinary track require the intervention of a physician. Doctors called urologists specialize in surgical procedures of the urinary tract and are trained in stone removal.

If you have had a stone before you are at greater risk for having more stones. Taking a few precautions can help prevent stone recurrence. Make sure that you drink at least eight glasses of water a day to stay hydrated.

Get the calcium you need because too little calcium in the diet can cause the body to try to hold on to calcium rather than flushing it out in the kidneys. Reducing your sodium intake and limiting animal protein can help, too. Specific foods that can cause stone formation include beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, most nuts and sodas.

If you have had stones or are concerned you have a stone, you should discuss you symptoms with your doctor. By working with your doctor you can figure out what type of stones you have and the best way to prevent forming future kidney stones.