We produce urine to excrete waste and excess water from our bodies; however, sometimes crystals can develop in urine and eventually cause kidney stones. Kidney stones can cause bloody urine, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills, lower back pain, as well as foul-smelling and cloudy urine. Staying hydrated, reducing sodium and calcium intake, and a few other lifestyle changes can reduce the likelihood of developing kidney stones.
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Types of Kidney Stones
According to the National Kidney Foundation, nearly 1 in 10 people develop kidney stones, and each year, more than half a million people go to the emergency room for issues related to kidney stones.
There are four types of kidney stones: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine stones. We described these kidney stones and their causes below.
- Calcium Oxalate Stones: This is the most common type of kidney stone caused by insufficient calcium and fluid intake. Calcium combines with oxalate - a natural compound found in most foods and within the urine. When you do not have enough calcium or fluid intake, oxalate minerals can form a large solid and lead to a kidney stone.
- Uric Acid Stones: These types of stones form when the levels of uric acid in your urine are too high. You may have high uric acid concentrations as a result of genetic inheritance or because you are eating foods that have high concentrations of chemicals called purines. Purines may lead to the formation of uric acid stones and are found in organ meats and shellfish.
- Struvite Stones: A struvite is a classification for kidney stones caused by upper urinary tract infections from bacteria. Struvite stones are formed when the urine is not acidic enough. These stones can grow quickly with little warning.
- Cystine Stones: Typically larger than other kidney stones, cystine stones are caused by a rare disorder called “cystinuria,” which causes cystine - a naturally occurring enzyme, to leak into your urine. Too much cystine can cause kidney stones to form and get lodged in your kidneys, bladder, or elsewhere in the urinary tract. About 1 in 7,000 people worldwide have cystinuria.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
Below we describe eight steps you can take to prevent kidney stone development. Preventing kidney stones often requires just a few lifestyle changes, including increasing fluid intake, decreasing sodium intake, and increasing consumption of fruits and vegetables.
1. Stay Hydrated
A primary risk factor for developing kidney stones is dehydration. When you drink more water, your urine contains more fluid, and as a result, minerals and salts are less likely to cluster together and form kidney stones.
According to General Practitioner Dr. David Beatty of Strong Home Gym, “if you drink plenty of fluids, this will keep your urine more dilute. By doing this, the stones are less likely to crystallize in the kidneys.” A key indicator of dehydration is darker urine when ideally, urine should appear pale yellow.
Dr. Beatty recommends aiming for “2-4 Litres [of water] per day as long as you don’t have any other medical condition that can cause fluid overload (like Heart or Renal Failure).” A great way to ensure you are meeting this goal is by investing in a large water bottle with visual measurements to help you keep track of how much water you are consuming.
Those that exercise regularly or sweat frequently may benefit from additional fluids. You may want to consider also drinking orange juice or lemonade, as they contain citrate, a compound that helps prevent stones from forming. In addition, Dr. Beatty advises to “avoid starvation diets and be sensible with alcohol intake,” as alcohol consumption causes dehydration.
2. Reduce Sodium Intake
Your risk of developing kidney stones increases when you consume more sodium. Sodium is a mineral in salt and is found in many canned, packaged, and fast foods. Condiments, seasonings, and meats also contain large amounts of sodium which can cause water retention, and thus, dehydration.
According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an adult should aim to keep their daily salt intake below 2,300 milligrams (mg), equivalent to about one teaspoon of table salt. Foods that you should avoid when switching to a low-sodium diet include:
- Canned soups
- Canned vegetables
- Chips, crackers, pretzels
- Lunch meats
- Hot dogs, bratwurst, sausages
- Pickles and olives
3. Reduce Animal Protein Intake
The high acidity of animal protein can cause both calcium-oxalate and uric-acid kidney stones. The best foods to avoid if you are reducing your animal protein to prevent kidney stones intake include eggs, poultry, beef, pork, and fish. The University of Michigan Health System advises patients with a history of kidney stones to not exceed more than 80 grams of protein per day.
While it is recommended that you reduce your animal protein intake, it is important for your overall health that you have enough protein in your diet for your overall health. Some animal protein alternatives you may want to incorporate into your diet include legumes, nuts, nut products, and sunflower seeds.
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4. Consume Calcium-Rich Foods
Surprisingly, eating a diet high in calcium may reduce your risk of calcium-oxalate kidney stones. Good sources of calcium include low-fat dairy options such as cheese, milk, and low-fat yogurt. When combined with Vitamin D, your body can better absorb calcium. Many dairy milk alternatives, such as soy milk, are fortified with Vitamin D.
Some other sources of calcium include plant-based foods, such as calcium-fortified juices, cereals, bread, and a variety of vegetables and beans. Other calcium-rich foods include:
- Collared greens
- Fortified almond milk
- Fortified oat milk
5. Limit Oxalate-Rich Foods
Oxalates are a natural compound found in food that can contribute to the formation of calcium-oxalate kidney stones. To prevent kidney stone formation, you may want to reduce your oxalate intake. Foods that you should avoid include the following:
- Many berries
- Sweet potatoes
- Wheat bran
- Soy products
6. Eat Plenty of Fruits and Veggies
Fruits and vegetables contain a whole host of properties to help fight off kidney stones. Fruits and vegetables contain many important vitamins and make the urine less acidic, thus reducing kidney stone formation. As mentioned above, some fruits and vegetables, such as berries and spinach, are high in oxalates and should be avoided if you have a history of kidney stone formation.
Many fruit juices are good for reducing kidney stones, specifically those containing citric acids such as oranges, lemons, and limes. However, grapefruit juice is high in oxalates and can contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
7. Avoid Vitamin C Supplements
Taking vitamin C supplements may increase your risk of developing kidney stones. According to a 2013 study, individuals who took high doses of vitamin C supplements doubled their risk of developing kidney stones. In general, you should not take more than 500mg of vitamin C a day, as excess vitamin C in the body can contribute to the formation of calcium-oxalate kidney stones.
8. Check Your Over-The-Counter Medications
The type of kidney stone you have determines the type of medication your doctor may prescribe. While you may be treating kidney stones, some prescription and over-the-counter medications used to treat other conditions may increase your risk of developing kidney stones. Some of these medications that could increase your risk of kidney stones include:
- Diuretics (water pills that are a common drug for hypertension)
- Decongestants (sinus pressure and stuffy nose relief)
- Anticonvulsants (mood stabilizers for bipolar and seizure disorders)
- Protease inhibitors (HIV treatment drugs)
- Chemotherapy drugs (used for cancer treatment)
- Uricosuric drugs (Gout treatment drugs)
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Kidney Stones Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Below we have answered a few frequently asked questions regarding kidney stone diagnosis and treatment.
What are the common symptoms of kidney stones?
It’s important to get your urine checked as soon as possible if you have any signs of urine infection, such as stinging when you pass water, smelly urine, increased frequency of urination, or fever. You may also notice blood in your urine, experience nausea and vomiting, or have lower back pain. A membership with Mira can help you get affordable lab tests, including a urinalysis.
What is the treatment for kidney stones?
According to the National Kidney Foundation, treating kidney stones often begins with the directive to drink a lot of water in an attempt to pass the stone naturally. You may also be provided medication to make your urine less acidic.
If these methods do not work, your doctor may suggest shock-wave lithotripsy, a non-invasive procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to dissolve the stones and help them pass more quickly through the urine. Your doctor may recommend a ureteroscopy, where a tube is inserted into the ureter to retrieve or dissolve the stone.
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
As soon as you believe you are experiencing symptoms of kidney stones, you should make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will likely obtain your medical history, do a physical examination, blood test, and urine sample. Your doctor may also opt for imaging tests such as a high-resolution CT scan or a kidney-ureter-bladder x-ray (KUB x-ray), which can show the location and size of the stone.
What if kidney stones are left untreated?
According to Dr. Beatty, most stones are small, pass spontaneously and leave no lasting damage. However, if a stone remains in the body for long enough, it can irritate the kidney, becoming more susceptible to infection. If kidney infections aren’t treated early, they can cause sepsis or kidney damage. If a stone blocks urine outflow, the kidney may become swollen and functionally impaired. If left untreated, this can cause a deterioration in kidney function leading to Renal Failure.
A fundamental way to prevent kidney stones is staying hydrated and modifying your diet to eat certain fruits and vegetables while reducing salt intake. If you begin to notice symptoms of kidney stones such as darker or even bloody urine, nausea, and vomiting, or lower back pain, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. Treatment will likely begin with hydration, and depending on the severity, may require more invasive methods to help pass the stone.
If you suspect you may have a kidney stone, Mira provides affordable health coverage for primary and preventative care services for just $45 per month. Engaging in preventive care and staying up-to-date on physicals and lab testing is a great way to stay on top of your health and reduce your likelihood of future medical problems. Sign up today and even add your family!
Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!