As a urologist, kidney stones are the most common medical problem that keeps me up at night. More than a million Americans develop a kidney stone each year. Even tiny 3-millimeter stones are incredibly painful to my patients, and I can empathize with them.
The pain is an indication that something is seriously wrong with your body, and that you need to seek treatment. Untreated kidney stones can prevent the kidneys from draining, which puts you at serious risk for infection or even death.
When to see a doctor
There are no true "warning signs" for kidney stones. Small stones usually pass unnoticed. Large stones often remain undetected until they become lodged in the ureter and you have severe and sudden pain in the back or lower abdomen.
Some symptoms of a kidney stone include:
- Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
- Pain in the lower abdomen or groin
- Painful urination
- Pink, red or brown urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent need to urinate
- Urinating in small amounts
If you experience any of the symptoms above, you should make an appointment with your doctor.
Furthermore, seek immediate medical help if you experience:
- Unrelenting pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Blood in your urine
- Difficulty passing urine
Passing a kidney stone is a painful process. You may be able to do it with the use of pain medicine and gallons of water. But there are occasions when surgery is necessary.
How to prevent kidney stones
There is no vaccine to prevent you from ever getting a kidney stone, but you can take measures to reduce your risk.
- Most kidney stones are formed of calcium oxide. Some tips for avoiding stones include:
- Drink fewer sugary drinks, such as tea and Sun Drop
- Increase your water intake to 100 ounces per day
- Maintain a normal body mass index
- Reduce your salt intake
- Maintain an optimal blood pressure
- Certain conditions make it more likely that you will get kidney stones. Those conditions are:
- Digestive disease
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Metabolic disorders such as hyperparathyroidism
Getting the stone out
In most cases, I advise my patients to let the stone pass naturally, possibly with some medication for pain relief. Patients must then drink enough fluids to build up enough pressure to push the stone out.
For stones that don't pass on their own, other treatments are used to break up the stone or remove it.