It seems ridiculous if you stop and think about it: “stones” developing in our bodies and causing pain. Yet, kidney stones are a common problem, especially for men between the ages of 30 and 50. It certainly isn’t a pleasant subject to think about, but it is important to understand your risk factors so you can enjoy your most optimal health.
Who Gets Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are small, pebble-like deposits formed by the salts and minerals in urine. Kidney stones are a problem that seems to have always existed – scientists actually found evidence of kidney stones in an Egyptian mummy! Along with men, who tend to develop kidney stones into their 70s, women are also at risk, especially in their 50s after menopause.
If you want to get a good idea of your risk for developing kidney stones, look to mom and dad. A family history is one of the greatest predictors of kidney stones. The other is your own history. A person who has already had more than one kidney stone is likely to develop them in the future.
Other risk factors are a history of frequent urinary tract infections, as well as diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, gout, high blood pressure and hyperparathyroidism. All the risk factors I just named are generally beyond our control. Luckily, there is quite a long list of factors that you do have control over when it comes to preventing kidney stones.
Take Control of Your Risk
When a patient is at risk for having kidney stones, they often ask me what exactly they can do about it. Fortunately, in the case of kidney stones, there are multiple actions you can take.
1) Drink plenty of the right fluids. The best (and the easiest) choice is water. You should drink enough water throughout the day to keep urine clear. Other hydrating fluids like juice also help, but grapefruit juice should be avoided as it is known to promote the formation of kidney stones.
2) Consider your diet. If you are at risk for kidney stones, analyzing your diet with a doctor may help you. Sometimes kidney stones are caused by foods that are high in calcium oxalate. Just some of these are spinach, beets, Swiss chard, peanuts, okra, chocolate and sweet potatoes. In addition, eating excessive amounts of protein, high sodium intake and foods with added vitamin D may be a problem for certain people.
3) Tighten your belt. There are so many compelling reasons to manage your weight as you age, and preventing kidney stones is one of those. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that gaining weight as an adult, a high body mass index and a large waist size increase the likelihood of developing kidney stones. Weight gain may also lead to insulin resistance, which is another risk factor.
4) Work it. Just like watching your weight, regular exercise is extremely beneficial to good health as we grow older. Being sedentary increases your chance of getting kidney stones.
Managing the Condition
If you think you may be at increased risk, you’re probably wondering what happens if you do develop a kidney stone. First off, surgery is often avoidable. Together with your doctor, you’ll decide the best course of action. You may let the kidney stone naturally pass out of the body, drinking a lot of water in order to help it along. If that is too painful, a treatment called lithotripsy administers shock waves that can help break up the kidney stone.
Once a kidney stone has passed, the first order of business is to determine its cause by analyzing it, testing blood and urine and looking at other factors such as diet. This is the best way to avoid more kidney stones in the future. Remember, there are many ways to prevent kidney stones, and it is never too early – or too late – to take control of your health!