Kidney stones are essentially tiny rocks or pebbles that form in one’s kidney. Once formed in the kidney which is located in the upper back, they can move and block the ureter (tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). This can result in terrible pain, often described as worse than childbirth.
Kidney stones can come in all shapes and sizes, some quite large like the size of a golfball and some so tiny it is hard to see. They also can come in various difference chemical compositions, some contain calcium, some phosphate, some uric acid and other can be a mixture of those combinations.
Risks factors for kidney stones are a family history, dehydration, poor diet as well as other intestinal disorders. Both men and women can develop kidney stones and at any age, ranging from 1 year of age to the 80s. Until recently kidney stones were more common in men but like many other conditions women are ‘catching up’.
The typical presentation for a kidney stone is the sudden developement of severe pain in the upper back or lower abdomen. Occasionally it can radiate down to the testicle in men. Often the stones will pass spontaneously after a few hours. We encourage people to strain their urine so that if possible they can catch the stone and have it analyzed to help prevent future stones.
If someone is trying to pass a stone they are often advised to drink a large amount of fluids. Unfortunately that is NOT recommended as it will worsen the pain. A stone will pass when it wants to and the concept of flushing it out may cause the pain to get worse. An analogy I often share with patients is that of a blocked sink. When a sink is block it is not the best time to run more water but minimize the inflow. When one is trying to pass a stone, they should stay hydrated but not overdo it. Good fluid intake is very important,nhowever in preventing future stone by washing out the tiny crystals that come together to form a stone.
Regarding diet and stone prevention, other useful things to do are to minimize red meat, salt and soda. Moderate dairy intake is recommended as opposed to low dairy or calcium intake. People who form stones are at risk for future stones and an annual ultrasound should be done to detect stones if they are present prior to them moving and causing pain.