What are Kidney Stones?
The presence of kidney stones within the body can cause extreme pain to the patient. Fortunately, there are many ways to treat and prevent the development of kidney stones. Kidney stones, otherwise known as renal lithiasis, are made up of mineral and acid salts. They develop in the kidneys, but their habitation within the body can affect the entire urinary tract. The minerals stick together, crystallizing when the urine is concentrated. While they are extremely painful in the body, in the long run, they generally do not cause permanent damage to the patient.1
There are a few types of kidney stones, and some are named based on their location. The one which is located in the ureter is called ureterolithiasis, the bladder is the location of the one known as cystolithiasis, and the actual kidney stone is called nephrolithiasis. Other kidney stones are classified by their chemical composition.
The vast majority of people who get kidney stones are male. Even though small stones can be passed asymptomatically, larger ones could create an obstruction in the ureter. This can lead to pain and spasms. The rib, hip, lower abdomen, and groin may be the areas in which the patient feels a lot of pain. Pain in the lower back is also common. Patients with renal colic can also have more severe symptoms, such as the onset of a fever, vomiting, nausea, and pus and blood in the urine.2
Usually, when a patient knows that they have developed a kidney stone, drinking a lot of water and taking pain medication will make it easier to wait for the stone to pass on its own. In more severe but also rarer cases, surgery will be required. There are also ways to prevent kidney stones from appearing in the first place.3
The types of medication offered for pain management range in strength and risk of developing a dependency from NSAIDs to opioids. If surgical intervention is required, shock waves may be used in order to break up the stones. In severe cases, invasive surgery and lasers could be required. Some patients may need a ureteral stent (a tube in the ureter) which would allow the obstruction to be artificially bypassed.4 Surgical options a urologist might use include shock wave lithotripsy (to crush the stone), ureteroscopy (wherein a tube is sent up in order to find and break up or remove the stone entirely), and percutaneous nephrolithotomy (in which a tool is used and fed into the kidney, through the back, to remove or break up the stones).5
CAM and Prevention
Role of Diet in Preventing Kidney Stones
Once the type of kidney stone has been identified, there are ways to prevent having more in the future. Diet and nutrition changes will be needed. Patients will need to take a look at what they generally eat on a daily basis in order to recognize which parts of their diet have contributed to the kidney stone. Most importantly, patients should drink 2-3 liters of fluid a day, with water being the best option, and citrus drinks being a secondary choice. Patients should increase their fluid intake when engaging in strenuous physical activities or if it is very hot outside.
It is also important to monitor how much a patient consumes animal protein, sodium, calcium, and oxalate. Patients need to get enough calcium. They should reduce the regularity of their sodium and animal protein intake. Avoiding high oxalate foods, which includes the likes of nuts, rhubarb, spinach, and wheat bran, can also be helpful.6 Additionally, patients may wish to avoid consuming grapefruit juice, soft drinks, chocolate, tea, peanuts, and strawberries.
Supplements and Medications
Certain supplements may also help prevent stones, such as B6 and magnesium citrate.7 Other helpful supplements include Vitamins A and C and lysine. It is also possible that there are certain medications which may actually trigger kidney stones, such as Sulphasalazine (for rheumatoid arthritis), Triamterene (diuretic), certain antacids (Trisilicate and Acetazolamide), and Furosemide (for heart conditions).
Complementary and Alternative Medicine
Patients with kidney stones may wish to seek CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) assistance from herbalists or try acupuncture.8 One study found that patients who received acupuncture treatments as well as using a combination of herbs and tamsulosin had significantly increased cases of positive outcome. While the tamsulosin, though it is used in the treatment of kidney stones which have moved into the ureters, is not as effective on its own, better results were found when an herbal medicine formula was combined with the drug. The effective rate of the patients in the study was further increased in the group which also received acupuncture treatment. It was noted that the medication on its own is slow-acting and has increased risks and side effects associated with its use when the speed of the process is not boosted with additional herbs and treatment.9
1, 3 http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/kidney-stones/DS00282
5, 6 http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/stones_ez/