Kidney stones are becoming a common problem – less than 50 years ago, the prevalence of kidney stones in the US was just 3.8% but it has now increased to 8.8%. Kidney stones are the result of the accumulation of minerals within the kidneys. Here are 10 shocking facts about kidney stones (and what you can do about it):

1. Once you get a kidney stone, there’s a higher risk of getting another

Approximately 1 out of every 10 people will suffer from a kidney stone at some point in their life. Anyone who gets a kidney stone is more likely to get another within the next two decades. Studies show that the recurrence rate for kidney stones is 20% within 5 years and almost 40% within 15 years. The Journal of the American Society of Nephrology covered a new tool to calculate the probability of having a second kidney stone so that you can follow a kidney stone prevention diet or take medications to lower your risk.

2. A low-calcium diet can increase your risk of kidney stones

The most common kind of kidney stones are calcium stones which form when calcium in urine combines with oxalates to form crystals. People with a family history of kidney stones try to reduce their risk by avoiding high calcium foods but this could actually increase the risk of kidney stones. Getting too little calcium in your diet will cause your oxalate levels to rise which can lead to kidney stones. It is best to obtain your calcium from dairy foods such as yogurt and cheese or green vegetables such as broccoli and spinach. Unless your doctor recommends it, avoid supplements as some studies have linked calcium supplements to kidney stones.

3. The bigger the stone, the more painful it will to be

Kidney stones vary greatly in size from as tiny as a grain of sand to as large as a golf ball. In most cases, the first symptom of a kidney stone is severe pain below the ribs in the side and back. The pain often radiates to the lower abdomen and groin. Kidney stone pain is caused by spasms that are triggered when the stone is lodged in the ureter. Drinking plenty of water can help to flush small stones (1/4inch or 5 mm in size) through the urinary tract and out of the body with little to no pain.

4. High levels of uric acid can cause kidney stones

Uric acid stones form when there is a high level of uric acid in urine. Uric acid forms when your body breaks down organic compounds in your food called purines. Foods such as organ meat, shellfish and fish are high in purines which increases the uric acid in urine. This results in the formation of uric acid crystals which clump together to form uric acid kidney stones. People who have suffered from uric acid kidney stones should reduce their intake of purine-rich foods to lower their risk of kidney stones.

5. Colas increase the risk of kidney stones

Consuming colas frequently can cause kidney stones, especially in people who have already developed a stone in the past. A recent study found that people who stopped drinking colas reduced their risk of a stone recurrence by 15%. Colas contain phosphoric acid which contribute to the development of kidney stones. Avoid aerated drinks and if you must have one, choose one that does not contain phosphoric acid.

6. Salt intake is linked to the risk of kidney stones

A high-sodium diet can increase your risk of kidney stones while a low-sodium diet can help to decrease your risk of kidney stones. Studies show that salt increases the amount of calcium excreted in urine which in turn increases the risk of a stone. Current guidelines suggest that daily sodium intake should be less than 2,300 mg, which is about 1 teaspoon of salt. If you have suffered from calcium stones in the past or if you have a family history of kidney problems, you should reduce your daily sodium intake to 1,500 mg.

7. Cloudy urine can signal an infection along with kidney stones

Cloudy or foul-smelling urine can be a sign of infection within your urinary tract. Studies show that approximately 8% of people with kidney stones also experience a urinary tract infection. If you have a fever or experience chills, talk to your doctor immediately as you might require antibiotic medication to eliminate the infection.

8. Genetics and gender play a role in stone formation

Studies show that having an immediate family member who has suffered from kidney stones increases your risk too. Furthermore, men are more likely than women to get a kidney stone – the lifetime risk of kidney stones is 9% for women but a whopping 19% for men. While genetics and gender are factors that cannot be changed, they can help to determine your risk of developing kidney stones so that you can take steps to prevent it.

9. UTIs (Urinary Tract Infections) can cause kidney stones

UTIs are caused by bacteria in the urinary tract. These bacteria create a phosphate mineral called Struvite which then turns into kidney stones. UTIs are more common in women than men which is why struvite kidney stones are more common in women. 10-15% of all kidney stones are made from struvite. If you suffer from frequent UTIs, you are at a higher risk of developing kidney stones. A UTI prevention plan that includes healthy foods and plenty of fluids will help to decrease your risk.

10. Kidney stones increase the risk of chronic kidney disease

People who have suffered from kidney stones are at a higher risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD) compared to those who have never had kidney stones. Studies show that individuals who have developed kidney stones have a 50 – 67% higher risk for a clinical diagnosis of CKD. CKD is linked to several health problems including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, anemia and bone disease. Depending on the type of kidney stone you’ve developed in the past, your doctor will recommend dietary changes such as reducing your intake of high-potassium foods such as potatoes, tomatoes and oranges. 

Kidney stones are a painful but temporary problem as 90% of all kidney stones are passed through urination. It is important to understand the causes and treatments for kidney stones as this will help you pass the stone without need for surgical intervention.

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Kidney stones are becoming a common problem – less than 50 years ago, the prevalence of kidney stones in the US was just 3.8% but it has now increased to 8.8%. Kidney stones are the result of the accumulation of minerals within the kidneys. Here are 10 shocking facts...