Kidney stones are famously painful, and because they’re most common in men, passing them is sometimes regarded as the male equivalent to childbirth. The basic circumstance is similar. A mass inside the body works its way through a passageway that is too small to comfortably allow clearance. In the case of kidney stones, the object is a clump of crystalline material that may in fact be quite small, making the discomfort it produces seem almost preposterously out of proportion.
Although they usually cause pain while passing through the urinary tract, the stones are named after the kidneys because that’s where they originate. (They can also form in the bladder and are then called bladder stones.) The kidneys process the body’s waste material, cleansing the blood and releasing excess fluid in urine. Most stones initially form in the center of the kidneys, where urine collects before being released into the ureter, the tube that leads to the bladder. Sometimes, however, uric acid and calcium collect in the kidney in the form of small stones.
These may block the ureter or cause infection or damage from backed-up fluid.
Stones can sometimes be shattered from outside the body using ultrasound; smaller pieces are then eliminated in the urine. Kidney stones are largely formed of uric acid and calcium oxylate, a form of calcium. Normally, calcium oxylate dissolves, but if nutritional deficiences or imbalances occur, calcium levels may become abnormally high and dissolving of it incomplete, which may then encourage stones to form.
Some 90 percent of kidney stones pass out of the body on their own within three to six weeks–a natural approach to treatment that you nevertheless wouldn’t wish on anybody. The best approach to minimizing discomfort from kidney stones is prevention–by striving to eat a diet that properly balances various nutrients that can influence levels of calcium or inhibit the formation of the stones. Some steps you can take include:
Drink Lots of Fluids.
When the body is dehydrated, minerals become less diluted and more concentrated in urine, making stones more likely to form. In fact, one of the first steps in treating a kidney stone is to drink more water in hopes it will flush the stone out of the body. The same approach can be taken before a stone ever forms, by drinking at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water each day. You can also eat foods that contain lots of water, such as watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, celery, cucumbers, and zucchini. In some cases, your doctor may also prescribe a diuretic to boose the body’s fluid output to help keep kidney stones from recurring.
Ask about Calcium. If calcium is the problem, cutting back on it would seem to make sense, but your doctor may worry that bones will suffer as a result. Also, the exact relationship of calcium intake to stone formation is not well understood, and some research suggests that reducing calcium intake may not have any impact. Ask your doctor for advice before making dietary changes based on calcium.
Getting more dietary fiber may help by binding calcium and helping it to leave the body. This advice is still largely theorectical, although some studies suggest that eating high-fiber foods such as apples, barley, blackberries, cowpeas, and lima beans can reduce risk of stones.
Health Quick Tip.
It’s important to get a proper diagnosis of the pain that typifies kidney stones, which often comes in waves in the side or abdomen, sometimes accompanied by difficulty urinating or blood in the urine. Such symptoms may also signal other serious problems, such as pelvic inflammatory disease, gallstones, a bladder infection, sexually transmitted diseases, or kidney disease.