Kidney stones are small, hard deposits of mineral and acid salts that form when the fluid, minerals and acids contained in your urine are unbalanced. The minerals can crystallize, stick together and solidify, resulting in a kidney stone. According to the National Institutes of Health, roughly 1 in 10 people develop kidney stones during their lifetime.
Although the majority of kidney stones pass through the urine, often accompanied by tremendous pain, they don’t usually cause any permanent damage. Sometimes, however, the location, size or hardness of a stone requires professional treatment.
Types of Kidney Stones
Most kidney stones have more than one type of crystal and are usually a combination of calcium compounds. Determining the most prevalent type of crystals in a kidney stone helps identify the underlying cause – and will help your physician determine the best preventative approach.
The vast majority of kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Other kidney stones are struvite stones (almost always the result of urinary tract infections) and uric acid stones (a byproduct of protein metabolism).
A common and painless procedure for treating kidney stones is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. “Extracorporeal” means outside the body, while “lithotripsy” refers to stone crushing. Both combine for this noninvasive procedure in which an X-ray helps locate the stone and shock waves are used to break it into tiny pieces that can be passed.
The vast majority of people suffering from painful stones will find great relief from shock wave lithotripsy, which is performed at Holland Hospital using general or monitored anesthesia. Most patients go home the same day.
Another treatment option includes ureteroscopy, where a small instrument (ureteroscope) is passed into the ureter through the bladder and laser energy is directed through the scope to shatter the stone. For very large stones and where noninvasive treatments aren’t effective, a surgeon can remove kidney stones through a small incision in the back.
Preventing Kidney Stones
One of the most common causes of kidney stones is dehydration. Most adults should pass at least 2 liters of urine a day on average; the lighter color your urine is, the better hydrated you are.
In most cases, simple lifestyle changes such as drinking more fluids – particularly water – can help prevent kidney stones. Experts also recommend adding citrate by drinking orange juice and lemonade with real lemon juice.
Limit substances that can dehydrate you such as coffee, tea, soda and alcohol. Depending on the type of kidney stone that a patient has had in the past, limiting or avoiding meat, salt or foods high in oxalate (e.g., green leafy vegetables, chocolate, nuts) may help prevent the formation of kidney stones in the future.