Prevention Advice I've Learned After I Lost My Kidney to a Staghorn Kidney Stone
Kidney stones cause a great deal of pain, especially when urinating, and can even cost you one or both kidneys. In this article, I want to discuss how to prevent kidney stones from forming and keep you from losing a kidney, as I did.
How Are Kidney Stones Formed?
Kidney stones are formed in the kidneys from dietary minerals in the urine.
The kidneys work like filters for your blood. They keep your body liquids balanced by removing waste, excess water, and excess solutes, like glucose and minerals, in urine. If you don't drink enough water (i.e. enough to have the excess removed), the urine will become overly concentrated with solutes and begin to form crystals called stones. Most of these stones are small and are passed completely unnoticed.
However, if you consistently drink an insufficient amount of water, the crystals can become large enough to get stuck in the kidneys or along the urinary tract. If they are able to make it down the urinary tract, they will cause excruciating pain along the way. Men tend to suffer more with kidney stones than women. As someone who has worked in the medical field, I can tell you first-hand that I have seen grown men cry like babies when they try to pass a kidney stone in the emergency room.
My Experience With Kidney Stones
White men between the ages of 20-50 are the most likely to suffer from kidney stones. Obese women are also at risk. I am not an obese woman, but I have had three separate bouts of kidney stones, each about five years apart. Each bout started with lower back pain.
With the first bout, when the pain wouldn't go away, I went to my doctor who sent me to a urologist. After looking at my X-rays, my urologist confirmed that I had a stone in my right kidney. It was small but still too large to pass. He recommended I get a lithotripsy, a common procedure that uses sound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces that can be easily passed. The procedure itself is generally not painful, but passing the stone fragments after the procedure may be very painful, depending on how well the procedure worked.
My third bout started similarly to my first bout, but this time, X-rays revealed that I had developed a large Staghorn stone in my right kidney. In fact, it was so large that it completely filled my kidney and stopped it from functioning. At this point, my only option was to have the kidney removed.
I now live with one kidney—and I have to take good care of that one. If it should fail, I would need dialysis, when you are hooked up to a machine that performs the same function as a kidney. To avoid damaging my only remaining kidney, I now live by my doctor's precautions to prevent new kidney stones from forming.
Dos and Don'ts to Prevent Kidney Stones
These are the strategies recommended to me to prevent new kidney stones from forming:
- Eat healthy food. A proper diet can help prevent stones from forming.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Your risk is greater if you are overweight.
- Avoid stress. When the body is stressed it releases the hormone vasopressin that concentrates urine.
- Keep other medical conditions under control: Conditions such as high or low blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, gout, and recurrent urinary infections should all be treated properly and brought under control.
- Drink lots of water. Drinking a lot of water throughout the day is the single most important thing you can do to keep from developing stones. There are also a few tips for drinking water:
- Drink a full glass of water with each meal.
- Add some lemon juice to your water. My doctor informed me that the citrate in lemon juice prevents calcium from crystalizing.
- Carry water with you everywhere you go and sip it regularly.
- Drink two glasses of water before bedtime. Yes, you may have to get up at night to go to the bathroom, but you don’t want concentrated urine sitting in the bladder overnight.
- If you sweat a lot in hot weather, drink more water than usual.
- Drink sugar-free cranberry juice (about 8 ounces per day). This will help prevent urinary tract infections, and it helps cleanse the urinary tract.
- Don't eat a lot of salt. The more sodium you eat, the more calcium your body tries to get rid of. This is because they are both positive ions, and as we mentioned in the beginning, your kidneys want to balance your fluids. The calcium will be concentrated in the urine, where it is likely to form crystals. Check the labels on foods and drinks for the sodium content. We should not have more than 2,000 milligrams a day.
- Don't eat an excess amount of meat. Protein from meat increases uric acid, calcium, and oxalates in the urine. This can lead to an increased risk for kidney stones. I’ve tried to cut back on meat for general health reasons. My doctor says to limit the meat to 12 ounces of fish, poultry, beef, or pork a day. That’s about the size of a deck of cards.
- Don't drink too many sugary or caffeinated beverages. Soda is the biggest culprit—not only does it lower urine citrate levels, but it also increases oxalate levels. Caffeine will increase the concentration of calcium in the urine. All of these effects promote stone formation.
A Final Word of Advice
If you have persistent lower-back pain, it may not be your mattress; you may have kidney stones. You should go see a doctor to get a urinalysis and perhaps some X-rays. This will tell you if there is blood present in the urine. Your doctor may also do a complete blood count to check to see if there is any infection; the white blood cell count would be high, in this case. There are several diagnostic tools that can be used to determine if you have kidney stones.
I used to think that by having the occasional glass of tea, a Coke, or some other beverage, I was getting enough liquids in a day. I was wrong. In order to keep yourself and your kidneys healthy, you must drink water—and lots of it. Drinking water is the single most important thing you can do to prevent kidney stones.
I hope it won’t be too late for you to follow my doctor’s advice on prevention.
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© 2012 Mary Hyatt