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Kidney Stones Symptoms and Treatment

“How can something so small cause so much pain and discomfort?”

That’s the question kidney stone patients often ask Dr. Robert Grand, a urologist at Washington Regional’s Ozark Urology Clinic. “To understand kidney stones, it’s important to understand the urinary tract,” he says. “When stones form and obstruct the urinary tract, urine can no longer drain from the kidney into the bladder. This causes dilation, or stretching, of the renal pelvis and kidney. This stretch is what causes the pain.”

Kidney stones form when there is a supersaturation of certain elements within the urine. “Calcium and oxalate are two common compounds in urine that form stones,” Grand says. “When calcium and oxalate bind together in low concentrations, the solution dissolves within the urine and is a liquid. However, when you have high concentrations of these compounds within the fluid, they precipitate out of the solution, crystallize and form a kidney stone.”

Nearly 80% of kidney stones contain calcium oxalate, but stones may also contain calcium phosphate, uric acid, struvite and cystine.

The risk for kidney stones increases with age, Grand says. “By the age of 70, about 16% of men will be diagnosed with a kidney stone and about 8% of women.” Common symptoms include:

  • Pain that may shift to different locations as the stone moves through the urinary tract
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Urinary tract symptoms

Contact a primary care provider or a urologist if you begin to experience any of these symptoms; however, get medical help right away if you develop fever, chills and flank pain. This may indicate a septic stone that needs to be drained immediately to remove the infection.

People who have already had a kidney stone are at increased risk for recurrent stone formation. Grand recommends these prevention steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to reduce the concentration of calcium and oxalate in your urine.
  • Maintain a balanced level of dietary calcium: 1,000-1,200 mg per day.
  • Limit foods high in oxalate, including coffee, chocolate, beets and spinach.
  • Increase intake of fruits and vegetables, especially those containing citrate and potassium, such as citrus fruits and bananas.
  • Limit intake of non-dairy animal protein, such as meat and seafood.

“The number one way to prevent stone formation is to drink more water,” Grand says. “It’s very important to say hydrated, particularly in heat and humidity, because dehydration is one of the top risk factors for stone formation. The goal is to drink enough fluid to produce 2.5 liters of urine daily.”

If dietary changes are not effective in preventing stone formation, Grand says, talk with a primary care provider or a urologist about a stone workup as well as medications that may help.

Request an appointment at Washington Regional Ozark Urology Clinic.