Understanding Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments

Kidney stones, also known as urolithiasis, are solid formations formed of minerals and salts that form within the kidneys. They are common in men and women and are majorly caused due to improper diet, excessive body weight, certain medical conditions, and some supplements or medications. These stones can affect any part of the urinary tract, from the kidneys to the bladder. Often, stone formation occurs when urine becomes consolidated, leading minerals to crystallise and stick together.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than half a million individuals opt for emergency medical care for kidney stone issues yearly. About one in ten people will experience kidney stones during their lifetime. 

What Causes Kidney Stones 

While there is no one reason for kidney stones, it is certainly caused due to inadequate water intake, inconsistent exercise levels, obesity, weight loss surgery, and the consumption of food high in salt or sugar. Besides, infections and a family history of kidney stones can be important factors. 

Another major factor is low urine volume, which may result from dehydration due to vigorous exercise, living in hot climates, or insufficient fluid intake. Increasing fluid intake helps dilute salts, reducing stone risk. In fact, adults prone to stones should consume about 3 litres of liquids, primarily water, is recommended. 

Lastly, excessive fructose consumption, found in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup, is related to an increased risk of kidney stone development. Obesity also raises stone risk by altering urine acidity. However, addressing these factors, remaining hydrated, and following a balanced diet can lower the risk of kidney stones.

Symptoms Of Kidney Stones 

Kidney stones range in size, ranging from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. Larger stones typically show more noticeable symptoms. Common signs include severe pain on either side of the lower back, constant stomach ache, blood in the urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and cloudy or stinking urine. This pain comes in spirals and may also be accompanied by an intense urge to urinate, increased urination frequency and burning sensation during urination. 

Kidney stones cause pain when they irritate or block the urinary tract, leading to rapid-onset, intense pain. While small stones may pass with pain relievers, larger ones causing lasting symptoms or complications may require additional treatment, including surgery in severe cases.

Dr. Sam Thampan, Specialist Urology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, highlights, "To differentiate kidney stones from other abdominal or back pain issues, characteristics such as the sudden onset of severe pain, the presence of blood in urine, and the location of pain (radiating from the back to the lower abdomen) are key indicators."

Dietary And Lifestyle Changes For Kidney Stone

Dr. Sam Thampan, Specialist Urology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, suggests, "Prioritise hydration by drinking plenty of water to dilute substances that may contribute to stone formation. Consider dietary adjustments such as reducing sodium intake, limiting consumption of animal proteins like meat and eggs, maintaining a balanced diet, decreasing oxalate-rich foods such as spinach and nuts, and ensuring adequate calcium intake through food sources. Moderation in caffeine and alcohol intake is advisable to prevent dehydration. Additionally, maintaining a healthy weight is crucial, as obesity is a recognised risk factor for kidney stones." 

Diagnosis Of Kidney Stones 

Kidney stones, sometimes asymptomatic, are often discovered incidentally through X-rays during routine health exams. However, for those experiencing symptoms like blood in the urine (hematuria) or sudden abdominal or side pain, diagnostic tests such as ultrasound or CT scans may help find the cause. These scans not only detect the existence of stones but also provide information on their size and location. In emergency situations, a CT scan is widely used due to its speed and precision in diagnosing kidney stones.

Dr. Sam Thampan, Specialist Urology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, adds, "Diagnostic tests play a crucial role in identifying and assessing kidney stones. These include CT scans, known for their high accuracy in detection, ultrasounds, particularly valuable for pregnant individuals, X-rays capable of identifying certain stone types, urinalysis for detecting blood, crystals, or infection in the urine, and blood tests to measure kidney function and identify factors contributing to stone formation."

Treatment For Kidney Stones 

Dr. Sam Thampan, Specialist Urology, Aster Hospital, Al Qusais, highlights, "The choice of treatment depends on factors like stone size, type, location, and individual health considerations. It's crucial for individuals experiencing symptoms to consult a healthcare professional for proper evaluation and guidance." 

Healthcare professionals suggest the treatment of kidney stones based on factors like size, location, and type. Small stones that can pass through the urinary tract may not require intervention, and patients may be advised to collect the stone for lab analysis. Adequate fluid intake is often recommended to facilitate the natural passage of the stone and pain medication may be prescribed. 

Larger stones causing blockages or severe pain may necessitate urgent treatment, such as shock wave lithotripsy, cystoscopy, ureteroscopy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy. These procedures, performed with anaesthesia, aim to break down or remove the stone, and the choice depends on the stone's characteristics. 

Recovery periods and hospital stays vary depending on the procedure's complexity. 

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