It can come out of nowhere.
You’re sitting at work one day when you suddenly have excruciating pain in your back, so bad that you can’t think straight.
Some terrifying possibilities come to mind of what might be wrong, but the answer could be a simple kidney stone.
If you have had a kidney stone, you are in good company. About one in 12 adults have had a kidney stone, and some have had one after that first stone.
It may be hard to believe that such a tiny thing can knock you down so quickly, but those little stones have some impressive power.
Here are six things to know about kidney stones and how to avoid them:
What is a kidney stone?
A kidney stone is a buildup of minerals that can form inside the kidney. The kidneys filter waste products in the body, such as salt and fluids, and then these products exit the kidneys through the ureters and move on to the bladder and out the body.
Kidney stones are made up of different minerals, but are commonly made of calcium and oxalate. When these minerals form a stone, it can move into the ureter and block its flow.
How do I know if I have a stone?
Kidney stones can be many different sizes. Very small stones may only cause some mild discomfort. However, the bigger the stone is, the more painful it may be. The stones build up inside the kidney, and most people won’t know they have a stone until it leaves the kidney and begins to pass through the ureter. At this point, a stone can be extremely uncomfortable and painful. The pain will often feel like a bad backache, usually focused on one side of the body. A visit to the doctor for an X-ray or CT scan can confirm whether a stone is present and its size.
Do kidney stones need treatment?
Whether a stone needs treatment often depends on its size. Most ureters are about 3 to 4 millimeters wide, so stones that are 4 mm or smaller may pass on their own. While this is good news for small stones, it is also painful news. It will be a waiting game, mixed with drinking lots of fluids, until the stone is gone.
Larger stones, however, may need treatment in order for them to pass. If you have nausea, fever, chills, blood in your urine or are having a hard time urinating, be sure to see your doctor.
How are kidney stones treated?
Stones that can be passed without surgical intervention may not require much more than extra fluids. A doctor can also prescribe some pain medication and something to help the ureter relax. For a stone that isn’t passing on its own, there are a few different procedures a doctor might recommend.
Ultrasound energy can be used to break the stone up into much smaller pieces that will leave the body on their own. In another common procedure, a scope is inserted into the urethra and up into the ureter, where a laser is used to break up the stone. For larger stones, treatments can include different surgeries to remove the stone.
Will I get another kidney stone?
Your chances are very good of getting another kidney stone once you have had one. A person who has had a kidney stone has a 50 percent chance of getting another one in the next 10 years. You will need to put some preventative measures to work to try and keep another stone at bay.
How can I prevent a kidney stone?
The steps you need to take to prevent another kidney stone can be different, depending on what kind of stone you had. Your doctor may give you a strainer to use so you can catch the stone and determine what it is made of.
“Lifestyle plays an important role in kidney health,” said Bernadette Corpuz, administrator at Friendship Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “Factors like daily exercise, reducing salt intake, weight control and limiting alcohol consumption are habits we can adopt early in life, and they have a positive impact on overall health that includes preventing kidney disease.”
Make sure to drink plenty of fluids every day, enough that your urine doesn’t get dark yellow. Drink more citrus juices, which can help break down the calcium and oxalate that often cause stones. You may want to decrease the sodium and animal protein in your diet as well. Talk to your doctor about the best way to prevent another stone.
If you have had a kidney stone, you know you don’t want to have one again. Although they are very painful, most stones will go away on their own or with a little bit of help. Talk to your doctor and take the steps that will help you avoid a kidney stone in the future.