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How to prevent kidney stones


William Badger, MD, is a urologist with the Visiting Specialist Program at Page Hospital in Page, Ariz.

Question: How common are kidney stones and how I can avoid getting them?

Answer: In the United States, kidney stones affect 10-15 percent of the population.  Technological advances in the past 20 years have allowed for rapid diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment of kidney stones.  Unfortunately, surgery does not reduce the risk of developing more stones.  The best method of treating stones is to prevent their formation.

Kidney stones are more common in adult white men, but affect people of all ages, genders, and races.  People living in hot, arid and dry climates have a high risk of developing stones.  In addition, overweight and obese patients are at high risk of forming stones.  Dehydration plays an important role in kidney stone formation – allowing for the calcium naturally dissolved in urine to form crystals.
Patient experiencing kidney stone pain, also called renal colic, describe severe pain in the upper abdomen or back.  Most patients are diagnosed with kidney stones by some type of X-ray.  Small stones often pass spontaneously; larger stones often require surgical intervention.  Most stones are composed of calcium.  Only 10 percent of stones contain uric acid and can be dissolved.

Stones resulting in severe pain, fevers or persistent vomiting are managed urgently.  The surgical procedures used today do not involve making incisions.  For smaller kidney stones, most will pass spontaneously. Larger stones that do not end up passing can be treated with Shock Wave Lithotripsy, which involves using a specialized ultrasound device to break up the stones from outside the body.  Another method of treating stones is Ureteroscopy which uses a laser guided by a small camera. The stone is either removed or broken up with the laser.

The single best method of kidney stone prevention is adequate hydration.   Research shows decreased stone risk when drinking enough water to make 2.5 liters of urine daily: clear urine is typically good indicator.  Adding a small amount of lemon juice to the water will improve the effect.  Consuming tea and cola increase the risk of stones. 

Reviewed August 2010

Page Last Modified: 08/06/2010
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