You may have heard the stories: Kidney stones have been described as some of the worst pain imaginable, second only to childbirth. The good news is that by making a few healthy choices, you can take steps to avoid them altogether.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are solid masses that form in your kidneys from excess substances in your urine. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball (though luckily stones of this size are rare).
There are four main types of kidney stones:
- Calcium stones can be caused by lack of dietary calcium (most common type) or excess of calcium in the urine
- Cystine stones result from an inherited condition that causes excess cysteine (an amino acid) that can also develop into stones
- Struvite stones can form after a urinary tract infection (develop suddenly and grow fast)
- Uric acid stones can form if you eat lots of fish, shellfish and meat (especially organ meats), all of which can cause excess uric acid
How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Stones?
Although men age 40 – 60 are more likely to develop kidney stones than women, anyone with these symptoms should seek care right away:
- A burning feeling when urinating
- Bad-smelling or cloudy-looking urine
- Blood in the urine
- Constant, extreme pain in back or side
- Fever and chills
It’s also important to understand that if you’ve had kidney stones before, you’re more likely to have them again.
Although rare, complications of kidney stones include urinary tract infection and loss of kidney function. See your doctor or call 911 if you’re in severe pain.
How to Avoid Kidney Stones?
While there are no guarantees, a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in helping you stave off kidney stones. Here are some suggestions:
Drink Plenty of Water
On average, you should drink about 8 cups (or a half gallon) of water each day — although you should drink more in hot weather, especially if you work outside. This keeps your urine less concentrated and reduces your risk for kidney stones.
Get Enough Calcium From Food
Having just the right amount of calcium can be tricky: Having too much or too little in your urine is problematic since either can cause crystals to form.
Check Your Medications
Some prescription or over-the-counter medications can cause kidney stones. Your doctor can help you weigh the health benefits of these medications against the risk of developing stones.
Limit the Animal Protein You Eat
- Fish and shellfish
- Organ meats
- Red meat
Manage or Reduce Your Salt Intake
Too much sodium in your diet, especially if you have high blood pressure, can lead to the development of kidney stones.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight increases your risk for kidney stones. If you have any questions about managing your diet, talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian.
Stay Informed and Talk to Your Doctor
Kidney stones are common, but you can take important steps to avoid them. Talk to your Primary Care Provider or Urologist about any risk factors you may have and how you can stay healthy at every age.