Some people, including me, have kidney stones from time to time and have learned to deal with unpleasant events on their own terms without seeking medical attention. Most incidents last only a few hours and, in some extreme cases, several days; however, it is entirely up to the individual how best to handle these situations, depending 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. You are strongly advised to consult with a licensed care provider before attempting to implement anything that may affect your health.
As the body processes food for energy and repairs tissue, it takes what it needs and directs all waste products from the bloodstream to the kidneys for elimination through the urinary stream. Kidney stones generally 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 when the stone moves to through the ureter. It has often been said that kidney stone pain is the closest thing to labor and delivery pains a man can feel, so after all, women might have some justice in the world.
There are basically four main types of kidney stones, based on their chemical makeup:
1. Uric acid stones: the body forms these types of stones when the urine is constantly acidic. Diets rich 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 be deposited 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: They are the most common type of kidney stone 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 alkaline urine (high pH). Calcium oxalate stones are much more common. They are usually formed by a high excretion of calcium and oxalate. Caregivers often suggest that people with these types of stones eliminate as many foods high in phosphate and oxalate from their diet.
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. Stomach stones: These types of kidney stones are the result of kidney infections. People who can remove infected stones from their urinary tract and remain infection-free can generally remove or reduce subsequent occurrences.
The vast majority of kidney stones are small and can be passed through urine. Your doctor may recommend reducing the load on your kidneys by drinking more fluids, especially water. He may also recommend taking a diuretic to increase urine flow. Stones dissolve in excess fluid and are then easily flushed out in the urine stream. Drinking a few beers has even been known to help. Generally, you need six to eight glasses of water a day consumed at regular intervals. 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 removal of a kidney stone. I actually went for a walk, rode my bike, and used a rowing machine to create additional movement in the back muscles and tissues around the kidney area once I felt one approach. If the stone is the size of a grain of rice, for example, it will take several hours to work its way through the ureter, and any exercise helps speed up the process.
While increasing your fluid intake, it is equally important not to consume foods that restrict or decrease the flow of urine, such as caffeine. Drinks 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 removal using ultrasound, which uses sonic bursts to break them into smaller pieces. However, before expensive medical procedures are used, many kidney stones can be chemically dissolved with the acidic acid of lemons and grapefruit. Make strong lemonade without sugar or sweetener, using one real lemon per quart. To this mix, add diet cranberry juice for flavor and drink as much as possible. This drink will break down kidney stones in a matter of hours and speed their elimination with less pain.
For pain relief, you can take over-the-counter aspirin, acetaminophen, and other pain relievers along with a nice hot shower every twelve hours. If the 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 with 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 to prevent the formation of future events. Every time you urinate, be sure to do so through a strainer or filter placed over the toilet. A pair of old pantyhose wrapped inside a milk jug, or any other wide-mouth bottle, can also be used for this purpose. Once you’ve captured the kidney stone, place it in a plastic bag or used prescription container and give it to your doctor. He will be able to refer 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:
Calcium oxalate stones
- Reduce animal proteins, such as processed meats, eggs, and fish.
- Get enough calcium through 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.
- cut back on 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 dairy products.
Calcium Phosphate Stones
- reduce animal protein 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 recommended daily allowance (RDA) for sodium in the US is 2,300 milligrams (mg), but the average American intake is 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 a medicine with allopurinol, or equivalent
Staying properly hydrated each 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 produce at least 2 liters of urine a day. People with cystine stones need to drink even more. Although water is best, other liquids can also help prevent kidney stones, such as citrus drinks that contain acidic acid and, surprisingly, beer. Now you can tell people when you are enjoying your next beer that you are really just taking your medicine. This works for me.