Kidney Stones: Pain, Symptoms, and Treatment

Health Update – Dr. John Brizzolara

Kidney stones are one of the most common problems of the urinary system. These small masses of salts and minerals form inside the kidneys and may travel down the urinary tract. Kidney stones range in size from just a speck to as large as a ping pong ball. If you’ve ever experienced kidney stones, you know they can be quite painful.

How do you know if you are at risk?

Low urine volume results in concentrated urine, making an individual more prone to stones. It is recommended that we consume three liters of fluid a day—mainly water to address the concentrated urine.

Diet plays a role. Diets high in animal protein make us more prone to calcium oxalate stones (the most common stone). It is not the calcium that is the culprit but the oxalate, which is a break-down product of animal protein.

Bowel conditions, such as chronic diarrhea, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and gastric bypass surgery, can predispose people to stone formation.

Obesity changes the acid level in the urine, leading to stone formation.

Certain medications and dietary supplements such as Vitamin C can play a role in stone formation.

Family history is important. An individual with a parent or a sibling who has had kidney stones is at greater risk of forming stones.

If a person has one stone episode, he or she is at a 50% greater risk of forming another stone in the next three years if there is no change in that individual’s diet or lifestyle. If on the other hand they increase their fluid intake to three liters a day, they will decrease their chances of another stone by 75%. Overweight individuals can decrease their stone occurrence rate by 75% with exercise, dietary changes and weight loss.

Dietary Precautions

It’s important to consider dietary remedies alongside prescription medications. While it may seem easier to just take a pill to fix a medical problem, consider lifestyle changes that could impact your health positively. Some foods and drinks make individuals more prone to stone formation, and knowledge of this goes a long way in decreasing future stone formation. The tips mentioned below can dramatically decrease stone formation.

  • Drink enough fluids – at least 3 liters of liquid daily (10, 10-ounce glasses). In addition, replace fluid lost when sweating and exercising. All fluids count, but water, low- and no-calorie drinks are best. Try limiting sugar-sweetened and alcoholic drinks.
  • Reduce the amount of salt in your diet. The recommendation is not eating more than 2,300 mg of salt daily. Many foods such as cheese, frozen foods, soups, breads, salad dressing, casseroles, bottled sauces and condiments are high in salt.
  • Eat five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. This increases your body’s potassium, magnesium, antioxidants, and citrate levels, all which are stone inhibitors and decrease the formation of stones. Foods high in oxalate can contribute to a greater likelihood of stone formation. Foods at the top of the list that are high in oxalate are spinach, rhubarb, almonds, and brewed tea. Also, contrary to what we may think, the intake of the normal daily requirement of calcium (1,000 to 2,000 mg/day) can help reduce the amount of oxalate in our urine and decrease stone formation.
  • Eat less meat (beef, poultry, fish, pork, lamb and game) if you form calcium oxalate, cystine or uric acid stones. This might mean eating these foods 1-2 times a day rather than 3-4 times a day, fewer times during the week or smaller portions.