Kidney Research Since 1999

Andrew Colucci, MD
Andrew Colucci, MD

2012 Doctor of Medicine (M.D. cum laude) procured at Boston University School of Medicine - Currently a radiologist in Massachusetts

Sep 28, 2018 4 min read

Risk Factors and Prevention of Kidney Stones

kidney stone pain

Kidney Stone Background

Have you ever suffered the pain of a kidney stone? If you have, you know it’s a pain that’s hard to forget. Oftentimes, the pain comes on so severely that you have difficulty staying still – you fidget around because of the pain, you feel sick to your stomach, and you’re alarmed because you spot blood in your urine. These are common symptoms of kidney stones and often warrant trips to emergency rooms and urgent care doctors.

If you have ever suffered from a kidney stone, you are probably interested in finding out what caused it and how you can prevent any future re-occurrence. Kidney stones are made up of mineral deposits that crystallize from concentrated urine and can occur in the kidneys, or anywhere along the urinary tract from the kidneys to the bladder.

And though you may feel like you are experiencing the worst pain in your life, many times kidney stones will pass on their own and require no medical treatment. Of course, in cases where the stone does not pass on its own, you will need to see a doctor who will prescribe medication or other treatments to help pass the stone. Surgery is even required in certain cases.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

You may have a buildup of mineral deposits in your kidneys for awhile before symptoms ever present themselves. More often than not, kidney stone pain starts to develop when the stone starts to move into the ureter – the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder. During this movement, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain originating in your side, near the rib cage, or in your back
  • Painful urination
  • Pain that radiates throughout your groin and lower abdomen
  • Blood in the urine (indicated by pink, brown, or red urine)
  • Pain that fluctuates in intensity – it comes and goes
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Persistent need to urinate; only urinating small amounts at a time
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

What Causes Kidney Stones?

There is not one specific cause of kidney stones that your doctor can pinpoint. Rather, it is likely caused by a number of contributing factors. Kidney stones form when the kidney provides the right environment for growth. This “right” environment means that there is the presence of crystal-forming substances within the kidneys, the most likely culprits being calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. When your kidneys cannot dilute these substances, stones are likely to form. Another contributing factor might be the characteristics of your urine. If the makeup of your urine cannot effectively prevent the crystals from forming, kidney stones are likely to result.

What are the Risk Factors?

Statistics show that 1 in 11 people suffer from kidney stones. And if you have previously suffered from kidney stones, you’re 50% more likely to suffer again. What puts you at greater risk of getting a kidney stone? There are a number of factors.

Dehydration. In order for your kidneys to work properly, there needs to be enough fluid to dilute its contents. Lack of water can easily make the formation of stones more probable. Excessive sweating can also contribute to a potential risk factor of developing kidney stones. In fact, living in warmer environments may make you more prone to developing kidney stones, as you are more likely to sweat and thus become dehydrated.

Family History. If you have already suffered from kidney stones, or if someone in your family has suffered from kidney stones, you are more likely to suffer from them in the future.

Weight. The more overweight you are, the higher your chances of developing a kidney stone.

Lack of Calcium. Though it seems counter intuitive to suggest increasing your calcium intake will ward off kidney stones, since calcium deposits are one of the most common causes of the formation of stones in the first place, an increase in calcium restores balance in your kidneys. Normally, oxalates bind to calcium in the stomach. If your diet is low in calcium, oxalates will bind to calcium in your kidneys, formulating a stone.

Eating a Diet Rich in Oxalates. As mentioned above, oxalates bind to calcium in your digestive tract. However, an overabundance of oxalates will end up binding in your kidneys as the body struggles to keep up with the imbalance. The excess oxalates will congregate in your kidneys and contribute to an increased risk of oxalate deposits and build up, leading to the formation of a kidney stone.

Digestive Diseases and Surgery. Any type of digestive tract surgery or disease can increase your chances of developing kidney stones. Gastric bypass surgery, Crohn’s Disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic diarrhea can all upset the absorption of calcium and water in your body.

High Sodium Diets. Increased sodium directly relates to increased calcium excretion by your kidneys. Which, in turn, increases your chances of calcium build up, and the creation of kidney stones

Lacking Citrus. Pucker up! Research has found that citrus fruits (e.g., oranges, lemons) contain citrate, thought to decrease the occurrence of kidney stones when present in your system.

Certain Drinks. Black tea has an increased amount of oxalates. Consuming too much can result in increased oxalate concentrations in the kidneys. Soda drinkers are 23% more likely to develop kidney stones. Scientists believe this is related to high fructose corn syrup, which increases the amount of kidney-stone causing chemicals in the body.

Laxative Use. Excessive use of laxatives can disrupt absorption of nutrients your body needs to stay healthy and can also dehydrate you – both of which increase your chances of developing kidney stones.

Prevention

Whether you’ve suffered from kidney stones before or not, you’ll want to avoid them if you can. While you cannot change genetics, you can change your diet and what goes into your body.

Drink more fluids. Stay hydrated. Drink water throughout the day. If you sweat a lot (due to exercise or just living in a hot climate), you should increase your water intake even more.

Decrease the amount of oxalate-rich foods in your diet. Surprisingly, a lot of these foods are excellent nutrition-wise. But, all things in moderation, particular if you are at risk for developing kidney stones. Oxalate-rich foods include rhubarb, spinach, beets, okra, chocolate, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, nuts, and soy products.

Decrease sodium and meat intake. Eat more legumes in place of meat. Use salt substitutes.

Medications. Certain medications can reduce your chances of developing kidney stones by stabilizing the amounts of acid and minerals in your urine that are linked to kidney stones. Depending on the type of stone you have, your doctor will prescribe you the correct type of medication.

Some things you can’t change – like your genetic makeup. But, some things you can. If you suffer from kidney stones or are at risk of developing stones, these tips can help you in avoiding any future episodes.