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What are kidney stones?
The purpose of the kidneys is to filter out waste from a body in the form or urine so that the body can function properly. Usually, this cycle of waste filtration goes on without any issues. But when the waste is not absorbed effectively in the urine and passed out, then one can develop kidney stones.
Kidney stones are small, hard granules that develop in the kidney from the residual minerals such as calcium that are not filtered out. This usually happens when the concentration of these substances is significant in quantity. One can compare them to how hard water deposits that may form at the bottom of your electric kettle. Kidney stones can be as small as grains of sand or as big as a golf ball or a lemon.
Kidney stones can be asymptomatic when they are growing inside the kidney, which means they cause no pain. As they grow, they pass to the ureter where they are stuck, and then, a patient can experience pain that can be anywhere between moderate to severe. Small kidney stones can pass out of the body with ease, but it’s the big ones that cause concern. Not only can they induce pain but they can also cause nausea and vomiting, fever, frequent urination, bloody urine, and the feeling of incomplete urination.
Causes of Kidney Stones
It would be a misconception to believe that the sole kidney stones cause is our modernised lifestyle that is highly dependent on pre-packaged foods, which are high in all kinds of substances that are bad for our bodies. But kidney stones have been around since the time of Hippocrates in ancient Greece. Archaeologists have even found a 7000-year-old mummy with kidney stones.
According to a National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) report, kidney stones affect more than 12% of India’s total population. The incidence of kidney stones has been found to be the highest in areas where the climate is primarily hot and dry like the ‘stone belt’ regions of Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, and Rajasthan. The water intake of these inhabitants is not adequate, causing dehydration and infrequent urination, which only aids in kidney stone formation.
If one is aware about the causes of renal stones, then it’s easy to avoid practices that can encourage their formation. Besides that, there are some pre-existing conditions that may also lead to kidney stone formation; so, treating them adequately and in time may also help you avoid this problem.
Here are the reasons for kidney stone formation that everyone should know:
Chemical build-up in the body: This accumulation could be of calcium, oxalate, urate, cystine, xanthine, and phosphate. When these are not dissolved in the urine and excreted from the body, then kidney stones occur.
Limited fluid intake: Dehydration can also lead to the development of kidney stones and UTIs, both of which, if not treated promptly, can result in kidney damage. When there is sufficient water to thwart stone-forming crystals from binding together, kidney stones do not form easily.
High-protein diet: Animal protein consumption may boost the risk of developing kidney stones. If one follows a diet that is high in protein-rich food and low in carbohydrates, their uric acid levels increase. Such people may need to reduce their daily intake of animal protein; they must still ensure that you get enough protein.
Eating too many stone-forming foods: Oxalate is found in beetroots, chocolate, spinach, tea, and most dry fruits, and it can contribute to kidney stones. If someone have kidney stones, their doctor may instruct them to eliminate these foods or consume them in moderation. Even if one does not have kidney stones, moderation is key when it comes to these foods.
High sodium in diet: When a large amount of sodium is consumed, the chances of having kidney stones increase. Table salt used for cooking also contains sodium. Many canned, packaged, and fast foods contain sodium. It can also be found in a variety of sauces, seasonings, and meats.
Family history of kidney stone: If a person has a relative who has had this condition, then it may have been passed on to that person. In this case, the likelihood of one having kidney stones can be higher than that of someone who has no family history of this condition at all. However, that does not eliminate the chances of developing kidney stones.
Obesity and weight gain: Obesity and weight gain may raise the likelihood of kidney stones, and women, particularly, may be highly susceptible to these additional risks. If one has a high BMI (body mass index), a large waist size, and a large number on the weighing scale, then their vulnerability to kidney stones is high.
Digestive issues and weight loss surgeries: Shifts in the digestion induced by gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or chronic diarrhoea can influence calcium levels and water absorption, thereby increasing the quantity of stone-forming compounds in your urine.
Diabetes: Having Type 2 diabetes can cause the urine to become more acidic. This happens because when the blood glucose levels are high and the blood becomes acidic, which in turn makes the urine acidic. Kidney stones are more probable in people who have acidic urine.
Other medical conditions: If someone gets urinary tract infections regularly or has medical issues like renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, then their chances of kidney stone formation are high.
Medications: Intake of certain medicines like vitamin C and dietary supplements, overuse of laxatives, certain antibiotics, diuretics, and drugs to treat HIV/AIDS can lead to kidney stones.
Diagnosis of Kidney Stones
Physical examination for pain, case history, overall medical history and family history are the first steps towards diagnosis. These are usually followed by blood tests to detect the level of uric acid and other chemicals that may be causing kidney stones. Urine tests also give a good enough idea about the quantity of stone-forming chemicals in your urine. The most accurate picture of kidney stones can be provided with imaging tests that can be used to detect the shape, size, and cause of the stones.
Treatment & Prevention of Kidney Stones
Treatment can be as simple as a doctor asking a patient to drink a lot of water so that the stone can pass through your urine. Else the patient will be given medication that can reduce the amount of uric acid in the blood. Alpha blockers may also be prescribed because they will alleviate any pain that the patient may experience when the stone exits their system. If the stone is so large that medication and treatment at home do not work, then surgical intervention maybe required.