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Take steps to prevent kidney stones

‘Anybody can get them’

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“Excruciating – like childbirth,” is how Kathleen Kobashi’s kidney stone patients often describe their pain.

The tiny stones – typically measured in millimeters – send more than half a million people to emergency rooms for treatment every year, estimates the National Kidney Foundation, which adds that 1 out of 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lifetime.

“Kidney stones are sort of an equal opportunity condition,” said Kobashi, a urologist at Seattle’s Virginia Mason Health Center. “Anybody can get them. There’s not really a typical patient. Stones cover any age, either gender.”

What exactly are kidney stones? What are some important warning signs? How can you reduce your risk of developing them?

What’s a kidney stone?

Various waste products are dissolved in your urine. Too much waste in too little liquid can cause crystals to develop in your kidneys, the NKF says. Over time, these crystals can attract other elements and grow.

“If you have a glass of water and you put some salt into it, you can stir the glass of water and it will dissolve,” Kobashi said. “There comes a point where you put more salt in and it doesn’t dissolve. That salt that doesn’t dissolve is a kidney stone.”

The stones grow bigger when the levels of calcium and other minerals in the kidney get too high.

Kobashi said patients with small stones may have no symptoms. Large stones, on the other hand, can cause blockages in the kidney and infections that can lead to emergency surgery.

“The biggest danger is if it blocks the kidney and you have an infection above the blockage,” she said. “It can really back up into your system, and it pushes the bacteria into the blood system. People can get really sick really fast.”

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