The pain of kidney stones or renal colic is so excruciating many describe it as the worst they have ever experienced, probably worse than labour pain or pain due to fractures, burns or gunshots. Unfortunately, according to current statistics, one in every twenty people will eventually develop kidney stones at some point in their lives.
Kidney stones, otherwise known as nephrolithiasis refers to specks of minerals of varying sizes and shapes within the renal pelvis. In most cases, the stones may also involve other parts of the urinary system including the ureters which link both kidneys to the bladder and urethra. Broadly, the presence of stones within the urinary tract is termed urolithiasis. Furthermore, kidney stone formation involves a gradual process in which a tiny speck of mineral precipitates or crystallizes out of urine and subsequently, more particles adhere to it ultimately resulting in a significant mass that can lodge anywhere along the urinary tract and obstruct the normal smooth flow of urine.
Depending on the mineral content of the stone, four main types of kidney stones have been described namely calcium oxalate/phosphate, magnesium aluminium phosphate (struvite), cystine and uric acid stones. Arguably, calcium stones account for about 75% of stones while the other minerals account for the rest. Highlighted below are some invaluable facts you need to know about kidney stones:
1. Kidney stones are more prevalent among males than females
Epidemiologic studies have revealed that men are three times more likely to develop urinary stones than women. However, infection (struvite) stones related to urinary tract infections tend to be prevalent among women. In the same vein, stones (especially those involving the kidneys) are more frequently seen among whites than blacks. This trend is possibly diet-related. Furthermore, majority of kidney stones are diagnosed among individuals within the age range of 20 – 50yrs.
2. Dehydration is the most important risk factor for stone formation
Low fluid intake arguably predisposes the majority of people to kidney stones. How? Dehydration leads to a reduced volume of urine which is concentrated. Subsequently, stone-forming constituents like calcium salts and uric acid become concentrated and are more likely to precipitate and form stones. This explains why kidney stones are more frequent during dry seasons or in individuals who exercise without drinking enough water. From the foregoing, you can definitely cut down your risk of kidney stones by drinking more water. Experts recommend an average of 6 – 8 glasses of water a day.
3. Kidney stones may recur
It’s been shown that individuals who have previously received treatment for kidney stones are more likely to suffer a repeat episode than others. Similarly, a family history of kidney stones has been associated with a double-fold risk. Some other risk factors for stone formation that deserve mention include urinary tract infections (struvite stones), gout (uric acid stones) and pregnancy (probably due to stasis of urine in the bladder as well as some physiological changes in the urine of pregnant women).
4. Kidney stones may show no symptoms
In the initial stage, kidney stones may be asymptomatic and about 80-85% may even pass out of the urine on their own without any intervention. However, dehydration favours increase in size which may eventually cause obstruction somewhere along the urinary tract leading to the typical excruciating pain that often starts from the flanks and radiates to the groin or scrotum. Unlike other colics, it is usually constant over hours and some patients describe it as the worst pain they ever felt. Other accompanying symptoms may include nausea or vomiting, bloody urine (due to the irritation of the mucosa of the urinary tract), frequency, urgency, dysuria (painful urination) and strangury.
5. Kidney stones are preventable
It’s gratifying to note that kidney stones can be prevented. Apart from liberal fluid intake, some other dietary measures which can be taken include cutting down on your intake of animal protein, high-salt diets, excess sugar, vitamin D supplements and spinach, all of which may increase your risk for kidney stones. Similarly, you are to ensure prompt treatment of urinary tract infections which favour the formation of struvite (infection) stones.
6. Certain drugs may increase your risk for stones
A number of common drugs have been linked to urinary calculi or stones. For instance, indinavir which is a protease inhibitor employed in the treatment of HIV/AIDS. Also, the popular antacid, mist magnesium trisilicate (mist mag) can predispose to stone formation. Other such drugs include sulphur-containing medications like cotrimoxazole (septrin) and sulfasalazine as well as triamterene, a potassium-sparing diuretic. The major lesson here is to avoid indiscriminate use of these drugs unless duly prescribed by your physician.