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Hydration key to avoiding painful kidney stones

male construction worker drinking water

The heat is on. And with rising temperatures and increased activity levels, you may be at greater risk for dehydration.

T.J. Tipton, MD, of Roper St. Francis Physician Partners – Urology, says getting the right amount of water can help to prevent kidney stones—a painful condition that is more prevalent in summer months.

“Kidney stones are small, hard deposits that form in the urinary tract,” says Dr. Tipton. “These stones tend to form more easily when we’re dehydrated. In the summer, we lose a lot of fluid when we sweat. That fluid loss can be hard to keep up with. First and foremost, it’s important that we stay well hydrated.”

About kidney stones

Our body gets rid of chemicals and other waste products through our urine. Sometimes, these chemicals or waste products clump together to form kidney stones.

Kidney stones may be small enough to leave your body on their own during urination. But some stones become too large to pass without medical help.

There are several types of kidney stones, each with a different chemical make-up. They include:

  • Calcium-based stones—These stones are made up of calcium compounds. Calcium oxalate stones are the most common. Oxalate is found in foods like dark chocolate, green leafy vegetables, nuts and tea.
  • Cystine stones—Stones formed when a naturally occurring chemical called cystine builds up in your urine.
  • Struvite stones—Struvite is a mineral produced by bacteria in your urine. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) can cause struvite stones.
  • Uric acid stones—Uric acid stones form from a build-up of uric acid. This waste product is typically removed from your body through urine.

If you have kidney stones, your doctor will work to identify which type. This can help with prevention and guide treatment.

Not all kidney stones are caused by dehydration, but fluid levels can play a significant role in kidney stone development. Kidney stones are also influenced by diet, poorly controlled diabetes, obesity and certain medications. Certain gastrointestinal surgeries can also make one more prone to kidney stones.

Symptoms of kidney stones may include:

  • ● Blood in the urine (which may or may not be visible)
  • ● Feeling like you need to urinate more frequently
  • ● Nausea or vomiting
  • ● Pain in the lower abdomen, back or side

“Kidney stones can also increase your risk for UTIs,” says Dr. Tipton. “These infections can cause fever, chills and even confusion.”

Preventing kidney stones

The best way to prevent kidney stones is through proper hydration and diet. Dr. Tipton recommends at least 60 ounces of water each day. Younger healthy individuals may even benefit from 80-100 ounces of water daily. Be sure to talk to your doctor to determine the right amount of water for you.

Your urine can tell you if you are getting enough fluids.

“Look at your urine,” Dr. Tipton says. “It should be reasonably clear and odorless.”

Beyond adding water, Dr. Tipton says you can lower your risk for kidney stones by reducing the amount of sodium in your diet. Cutting down on processed and canned foods can help. Similarly, reducing animal protein in the diet can minimize risks of some stones.

“Other ways to reduce kidney stone risk depend on your health history or urine chemistry,” says Dr. Tipton. “For example, if you tend to develop calcium oxalate stones, you may need to go on a low oxalate diet.”

Treating kidney stones

If you develop symptoms of kidney stones, your doctor will refer you to a urologist. Urologists are specialists who treat conditions of the urinary tract and offer four main treatment options for kidney stones. These include:

  1. Trial of passage—Waiting for the stone to pass on its own.
    “Trial of passage works best when stones are smaller and have already moved closer to the bladder,” says Dr. Tipton. “When we go this route, it’s also important to make sure pain is controlled and there is no infection.”
  1. Lithotripsy—A procedure that uses ultrasound to “shock” the stone from outside the body. Lithotripsy breaks the stone into smaller pieces, which then pass on their own.
  2. Ureteroscopy—Breakup and removal of a stone through a scope inserted into the kidney tube (ureter).
    “Ureteroscopy allows us to remove stones completely, and patients who undergo this procedure go home the same day,” says Dr. Tipton. “But ureteroscopy can cause trauma to the ureter, which could lead to the need for a temporary stent.”
  1. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy—Removal of the stone via a small incision in the back. This approach uses a larger scope inserted directly into the kidney. This procedure requires an overnight stay in the hospital.
    “A percutaneous approach is used to treat larger stones,” says Dr. Tipton. “It’s more invasive but may be better for big stones that aren’t likely to be adequately treated with less invasive techniques.”

If you are experiencing kidney stone symptoms and would like to schedule an appointment with a Roper St. Francis Healthcare doctor, call 843-531-OUCH. Learn more about kidney stones and our Kidney Stone Center’s walk-in care program.

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