close up of two kidney stones between two fingers

Kidney stones may be small, but they can be very painful. Know your risk factors to prevent this painful condition.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in 10 people will experience kidney stones at some point in their lifetimes. And if you’ve ever had a kidney stone pass through your urinary tract, you know the painful symptoms — excruciating pain along your side or back; nausea and vomiting; bloody or cloudy urine; fever and chills (if you also have an infection); excreting small amounts of urine, or a burning sensation when you urinate.

Although kidney stones are actually quite small — ranging in size from a grain of salt to a corn kernel — the discomfort they cause can be quite severe. Kidney stones develop when there is a high concentration of several minerals in the urine. When substances like calcium, oxalate, and uric acid are not flushed out with your urine, these minerals crystalize and clump together, eventually forming a stone. Knowing your risk factors for kidney stones can help you prevent this unpleasant condition.

Risk Factors for Kidney Stones

Certain factors put you at higher risk for kidney stones. Once you understand your chances of developing kidney stones, you can take precautions so you don’t suffer from their painful side effects. Here are five reasons kidney stones form:

Diet. The most common type of kidney stones develop due to a high amount of calcium and/or oxalate, a chemical made by your liver, in your daily diet. Foods rich in oxalate include bran cereal, spinach, rhubarb, nut, chocolate, and grits. When oxalate combines with calcium found in foods like milk and cheese, kidney stones may sprout.

Salt, sugary snacks, sodium-packed packaged meals, and animal-derived protein also encourage the development of kidney stones. Organ meats and shellfish raise the level of uric acid in your body, which could ultimately lead to kidney stones. A kidney specialist can analyze the chemical makeup of your stone to determine what foods in your diet may be causing the stones. In general, a diet low in sodium and protein with a moderate amount of calcium prevents kidney stones.

Family and Personal History. If you’ve passed one kidney stone, you’ll likely have a second one. Kidney stones tend to run in families as well, particularly stones arising from too much uric acid in your urine.

Chronic Conditions. Diabetes increases your output of uric acid, which is a leading cause of kidney stones. Inflammatory bowel diseases such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis result in frequent bouts of diarrhea, which lowers the amount of urine you produce. Too little urine means the minerals you should be flushing out stay in your kidneys and create stones.

Dehydration. It’s always a good idea to drink plenty of water, but especially so if you’re trying to avoid kidney stones. Without enough liquids to flush out the waste in your blood through the kidneys, minerals like oxalate, calcium, and uric acid bind together and create stones. Ten cups of water every day will keep you hydrated, and citrusy drinks like orange juice and lemonade also prevent kidney stones. If you notice your urine is cloudy instead of clear, you should up your intake of water.

Gender. Men stand an elevated risk of developing kidney stones. In fact, the National Kidney Foundation estimates the chance of kidney stones in men is 19 percent during their lifetime compared to 9 percent for women.

A kidney specialist — known as a nephrologist — can discover why you may be at higher risk for kidney stones and how to prevent them. If your doctor suspects you have a kidney stone, he or she will perform imaging tests of your kidneys. An analysis of your urine may also be ordered. Treatment may involve simply waiting for the stone to pass, or breaking up the stone with shock waves so the pieces exit through your urine with minimal pain. More extensive surgery may be needed for larger stones.

Visit a Kidney Specialist

Kidney stones can be painful, but they don’t cause long-term damage to your kidneys. The kidney specialists at Southern Massachusetts Dialysis Group will discuss your risks for kidney stones and treatment options. Don’t suffer from kidney stones any longer. Make an appointment with us today.