If you’ve ever had kidney stones, you know that they're painful.
Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that can form in the urine. They may stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract. The most preventable cause is low urine volume. As summer approaches, it’s especially important to understand the signs and symptoms.
"When you're in hot temperatures, the best thing you can do is replace the fluid you lose by sweating with plenty of water," says board certified urologist Dr. Francie James of Roper St. Francis Healthcare, home to the Kidney Stone Center of Charleston, which offers same-day care.
Here's everything you need to know about kidney stones.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Stones in the kidney often do not cause any symptoms. However, when a stone travels from the kidney to the bladder, it can become lodged in the ureter (tube that connects the kidney and the bladder) and block the flow of urine. This can cause the kidney to swell and cause pain.
There are a few ways to know if you may be passing a kidney stone. “Typically, there’s a sharp, cramping pain in your back and side, where your kidney is located. The pain starts there and will sometimes wrap around to your lower abdomen and groin,” Dr. James says.
The pain will typically come on suddenly and then may come and go in waves. As the stone travels down the ureter it may get stuck. Because urine can't get by, it backs up in the kidney, causing it to swell resulting in that sharp pain.
As the stone gets closer to the bladder, Dr. James says, you might get the feeling of having to urinate frequently and intensely. You might also see blood in your urine, and you might experience nausea and vomiting because of the severity of your pain.
How common are they exactly, and who's at risk?
"We think about one in 10 people will have a kidney stone in their lifetime," Dr. James says. About 50 percent of people who've had them will have one again, and patients with a family history are at a higher risk of getting them.
How can I prevent them?
Drinking plenty of water and increasing urine volume is the most important thing, Dr. James says. For patients who've had kidney stones before or who have a family history, she recommends drinking about three liters of water a day to create about 2.5 liters of urine. If it's hot and you're outside sweating, that amount should increase. She also recommends adding fresh-squeezed lemon juice to water intake, as the citric acid can boost citrate levels that disrupt kidney stone formation.
She and her team also encourage patients to reduce the amount of sodium and animal protein they consume. For patients with recurrent kidney stones, medication can be an option, too, in addition to dietary changes.
How are kidney stones treated?
The doctor will assess the size and location of the stone. In most cases, if the stone is smaller than five millimeters, the patient can pass it within two weeks. Sometimes, surgical removal is necessary.
So, if you’re at high risk, remember to drink plenty of water and hopefully, you can ward off those painful stones.
As the Lowcountry leader in adult healthcare, Roper St. Francis can take care of all of your primary healthcare needs. To learn more or to schedule an appointment, call (843) 402-CARE or visit rsfh.com. To reach the Kidney Stone Center of Charleston, call (843) 531-OUCH.