March is National Kidney Month. Dr. Alicia Arnold joined us to talk about a common kidney problem: kidney stones.
Meghan Kulig: Just how common are kidney stones?
Dr. Arnold: They affect about one in 11 Americans, men more frequently than women. Every year hundreds of thousands of people seek emergency care for kidney stones.
Meghan Kulig: What causes them to form?
Dr. Arnold: Our kidneys make urine, which is composed of waste material and water. When certain substances in urine, such as calcium or phosphorus, are too concentrated, they can form stones. Calcium stones are the most common type. Various medical conditions and medications can raise the risk for kidney stones, and sometimes it runs in families.
Meghan Kulig: Kidney stones are known for being painful, right?
Dr. Arnold: Yes, many people have a great deal of pain with kidney stones. Often the pain is in the flank, but it can radiate to the stomach area or the genitals. The pain can come and go, which we call renal colic. People can have nausea and vomiting. Sometimes though, the stones can be very small and cause no pain at all.
Meghan Kulig: How are they diagnosed?
Dr. Arnold: A CT scan is usually how they are diagnosed. Sometimes the scan also shows other stones, in addition to the one that is currently giving the patient pain. CT scans are helpful because they let us see the size of the stones and where they are located. Small ones can often pass on their own, but larger ones usually need intervention.
Meghan Kulig: How are they treated?
Dr. Arnold: If they are small enough to probably pass on their own, patients will be given pain medication to help them stay comfortable. If they don't pass, or they are too large, they probably need additional treatment. They might be treated with shock waves to try to break the stones up into smaller pieces or by using a small scope to remove the stone or break it up with a laser.
Meghan Kulig: Any advice for preventing kidney stones?
Dr. Arnold: Depending on what kind of stone you have and what may have contributed to its formation, your doctor may have specific advice for your case. In general, drinking more water and eating a diet low in salt and animal protein may help.