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Take steps to prevent kidney stones

‘Anybody can get them’

Photo: Prostock-Studio/iStockphoto

What are the symptoms?

John Eisenhour didn’t realize he had kidney stones until he went to a doctor after noticing discoloration in his urine. The sports camera operator from central Illinois wasn’t experiencing any of the most common symptom: pain in the side, back or below the ribs.

“If I hadn’t been paying attention to that one symptom, who knows how long that could have gone on,” Eisenhour said.

According to the Mayo Clinic, other symptoms include:

  • Pain that changes in intensity and location
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine, which also can be pink, red or brown
  • More frequent or urgent need to urinate
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and/or chills

Pain levels vary for each patient depending on the size and location of the stone(s), Kobashi said.

How are they treated?

Small kidney stones can pass through the urinary tract and cause little to no pain, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. For larger stones, the treatment options are more involved.

Many patients, including Eisenhour, have the stones broken up by a clinician using a ureteroscope, which goes up through the bladder and into the kidney.

Small stone fragments can be passed by patients through urination, while larger fragments are captured in a basket-type device and removed during the procedure. It’s a common procedure, Kobashi said, because advances in fiber-optic technology have made scopes smaller and easier to use.

Another common procedure is lithotripsy, which uses sound waves from outside the body to break up stones. Patients lie in a tub of water or on a water-filled cushion.

“Our body composition is primarily water,” Kobashi said. “So you put a sound wave through that water and you focus it on the stone.”

What can I do?

Several factors play a role in your risk of developing kidney stones.

The most important is hydration. Staying well hydrated can help your body dilute and flush out waste products from the kidneys, urologist Joseph Haddad writes in a blog post on the Henry Ford Health System website.

Haddad, who sees patients at two Henry Ford Health System medical facilities in and near Detroit, lists other risk factors:
Genetics: If your family has a history of developing kidney stones, you may be at greater risk.
Diet: Do you eat foods that are high in sodium or protein? This could increase buildup of waste products in the urinary tract.
Weather: Living in a hot, humid climate can make you sweat more and lose fluids. Summer also can bring on the issue more frequently.
Medications: Some prescription medications, such as those that treat epilepsy, can increase the likelihood of developing kidney stones.

Kobashi said knowing your family health history is important, along with understanding the other risk factors. Medication and diet, Kobashi said, can change the pH of your urine and reduce your risk of developing kidney stones. Most of all, she stresses increasing your fluid intake.

After he received treatment for his kidney stones, Eisenhour upped his water intake and ditched a two-cans-a-day soda habit.

“Drink as much water as you can,” he said. “Learn from somebody who’s been through it rather than going through it yourself.”

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