Kidney stones: how can a little thing hurt so much?

March 26, 2015 Providence Health Team

Take steps to avoid kidney stones.It seems just about everyone has a friend or family member with a horror story to tell about kidney stones. The tiny, jagged crystal-like deposits that can form inside your kidneys often are the size of a grain of sand but can be as large as a pearl. 

These little terrors usually pass through the urinary tract without notice. But patients sometimes experience severe pain that often occurs below the ribs and spreads to the lower abdomen and groin. The pain can intensify when attempting to urinate. Blood in the urine also is a tell-tale sign of renal lithiasis, or kidney stones.

Kidney stones: just what are they?

They’re solid crystals, mostly mineral and acid salts, and can form when oxalate, uric acid and calcium accumulate at a faster rate than the fluid in your urine can dilute. 

Most of the time, sufferers need only drink lots of water and take over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen to reduce pain. Although passing kidney stones can be painful, the condition is short-lived. 

In some severe cases, however, patients require more invasive measures to break up the stones through sound-wave therapy or by removing them surgically. 

Risk factors

Why do kidney stones develop? There’s no single reason for the onset of kidney stones, but several risk factors increase your likelihood of developing them. The foods that we all love but don’t fit into a healthy diet – fatty protein, sodium and sugar – are the building blocks of these internal irritants. If you’re an adult male, you’re twice as likely to be faced with this condition. If you lead a sedentary lifestyle, are obese, often become dehydrated, or your parents or siblings have a history of kidney stones, you’re also at risk.

Minimizing your risk

You can reduce your risk of kidney stones by making minor revisions to your diet and lifestyle. Here’s how:

  • Drink plenty of water. Increase your liquid consumption if you live in a hot, dry climate or follow a regular exercise regimen.
  • Limit your reach for the salt shaker. Reduce your salt intake. And lower the animal protein in your diet by supplementing it with non-animal sources such as legumes.
  • Keep certain vegetables off your plate: Spinach, rhubarb, Swiss chard, peanuts and beets are high in oxalate, which is a building block of kidney stones. 

Although kidney stones aren’t always preventable, they are completely manageable. For more information on reducing your chances of developing kidney stones – or to learn about treatment options – contact your primary care provider. Use our online tools to find a Providence clinic or provider in your neighborhood.

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