Some people, myself included, get kidney stones every few years and have learned to deal with unpleasant events on their own terms without seeking medical attention. Most incidents last for only a few hours, and in some extreme cases, for several days; however, it is entirely up to the individual how best to handle these situations based on their own pain threshold, tolerance, and motivation to avoid associated medical costs. This article is intended for those who want to treat their kidney stones on their own and is provided for informational purposes only. It is not intended to be medical advice, but rather a description of my own experience with them. It is strongly recommended to consult with a licensed healthcare provider before attempting to implement anything that may affect your health.
As the body processes food for energy and tissue repair, it takes what it needs and directs all the waste products in the bloodstream to the kidneys for removal through the urine stream. Kidney stones usually form in people when certain substances in the urine become highly concentrated, such as phosphorus, calcium, and oxalate. When kidney stones form, people often feel them initially as pain or pressure in the kidney region of the back that progresses to pain and eventually becomes severe back pain as the stone moves through of the ureter. It’s often been said that kidney stone pain is the closest thing to labor pains a man can feel, so ladies, maybe there’s some justice in the world after all.
Basically, there are four main types of kidney stones, based on their chemical makeup:
1. Uric Acid Stones: The body forms these types of stones when urine is constantly acidic. Diets high in purines, substances found in animal proteins such as fish, meat, and shellfish, tend to increase uric acid in the urine. When uric acid becomes concentrated in the urine, it can settle in the kidney to form a stone on its own or with calcium. High uric acid in the urine has also been linked to the cause of gout.
2. Calcium stones: These are the most common type of kidney stones and come in two forms: calcium phosphate and calcium oxalate. Calcium phosphate stones are created by the combination of a high calcium content in the urine and an alkaline (high pH) urine. Calcium oxalate stones are much more common. They are usually formed by high excretion of calcium and oxalate. Care providers often suggest that people with this type of stone eliminate as many foods that are high in phosphate and oxalate from their diet as possible.
3. Cystine stones: These types of kidney stones are the result of a genetic disorder that causes cystine to leak through the kidneys and into the urine, forming crystals that accumulate to form stones.
4. Stuvite stones: These types of kidney stones are the result of kidney infections. People who are able to clear infected stones from their urinary tract and stay infection-free can usually clear or reduce more cases.
The vast majority of kidney stones are small and can be passed through the urine. Your doctor may recommend that you reduce the load on your kidneys by drinking more fluids, especially water. He or she may also recommend taking a diuretic to increase the flow of urine. The stones dissolve in the excess fluid and are then easily passed in the urine stream. Even drinking a few beers has been known to help. Six to eight glasses of water a day consumed at regular intervals are generally needed. If your urine is pale yellow, it indicates that you are consuming an adequate amount of water.
People with kidney stones are in so much pain that they often lie down and wait for nature to take its course; however, this is not a good idea. Movement and activity are better options to speed up the passing of a kidney stone. In fact, I’ve taken walks, biked, and used a rowing machine to create additional movement in the back muscles and tissues around the kidney area once I feel one coming on. If the stone is the size of a grain of rice, for example, it will take several hours to pass through the ureter, and any exercise helps to speed up the process.
While increasing your fluid intake, it is equally important not to consume foods that restrict or slow urine flow, such as caffeine. Beverages like coffee tend to dehydrate the body and reduce urine production and flow, while actually encouraging new stone formation due to concentrated urine.
Large kidney stones may require surgery or ultrasound removal, which uses sonic bursts to break them into smaller pieces. However, before expensive medical procedures are used, many kidney stones can be chemically dissolved using acidic acid from lemons and grapefruit. Make a strong lemonade without sugar or sweetener, using one real lemon per liter. To this mixture add cranberry juice for flavor and drink as much as possible. This drink will break down kidney stones in a matter of hours and speed up their removal with less pain.
To ease the pain, you can take aspirin, acetaminophen, and other over-the-counter pain relievers along with a nice hot shower every twelve hours. If your shower head has a pulse action setting, use it directly on the kidney region with as much hot water as you can tolerate. Massage your kidneys for at least ten minutes using this procedure and the movement will expand the ureter and relieve some of the pain. After the hot shower, use a vibrating massager on the kidneys for at least thirty minutes, and then apply an electric heating pad to the kidneys for several hours.
It is essential to identify what type of kidney stones you have, so that you can develop procedures that prevent the formation of future events. Every time you urinate, make sure you urinate through a strainer or filter placed over the toilet. An old pair of pantyhose wrapped inside a milk flask, or any other wide-mouthed bottle, can also be used for this purpose. Once you’ve captured the kidney stone, put it in a plastic bag or used prescription container and give it to your doctor. He will be able to send it to a laboratory and analyze its composition and prescribe a treatment to eliminate future kidney stones.
Typical treatment recommendations based on the specific type of kidney stone include the following procedures:
calcium oxalate stones
- reduce animal protein, such as processed meats, eggs, and fish
- get enough calcium from a proper diet or take calcium supplements with food. People who form calcium oxalate stones should include 800 mg of calcium in their diet every day, not only to prevent kidney stones but also to maintain adequate bone density.
- avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, asparagus, grapes, almonds, rhubarb, walnuts, wheat bran, and cinnamon-apple cider
- reduce sodium and eat more potassium from bananas. This is a good strategy. Reducing sodium intake from salt is preferred to reducing calcium intake from milk and milk products.
calcium phosphate stones
- Reduce animal proteins and purines in your diet.
- Get enough calcium from your diet or take calcium supplements with your food.
- reduce sodium and eat more potassium as above
- According to the US Department of Agriculture, the US Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for sodium is 2,300 milligrams (mg), but the average US intake hovers around 3,400 mg. The risk of kidney stones increases proportionally with increasing daily sodium intake.
uric acid stones
- limit animal protein
- ask your doctor to prescribe the medicine Allopurinol, or equivalent
Staying adequately hydrated every day is the best strategy to help prevent most types of kidney stone formation. Health care providers and athletic trainers generally recommend that people drink 2 to 3 liters of fluid a day, enough to create at least 2 liters of urine a day. People with cystine stones should drink even more. Although water is best, other liquids can also help prevent kidney stones, such as acid-containing citrus drinks and, surprisingly, beer. Now you can tell people when you’re enjoying your next beer that you’re really just taking your medicine. This works for me.