If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, it’s not an experience you’d like to repeat. Some people have made the bold statement that it’s even more painful than childbirth. And indeed, when you consider what kidney stones are, how they form, and how they exit your body, it’s really no wonder that they cause such excruciating pain. And despite the fact that they are one of the most common urinary tract disorders, affecting millions of people every year, patients seem largely unaware of their existence until they actually get one. However, kidney stones are not only easily treated, they are also fairly easy to prevent once you become aware of their causes.
The kidneys serve several functions in the body. They are the portion of the digestive system that produces urine by removing excess water and waste from the blood. They also help the body to balance salts and other substances in the blood and finally, they help to form new red blood cells through the production of hormones. Understanding how the kidneys work gives us a clue as to how kidney stones form. As to why kidney stones are so painful, that has to do with the structure of the kidneys and the fact that urine, once produced, is passed to the bladder through extremely small tubes called ureters.
Many waste products go into the kidneys, and often, they are broken up by chemicals in the urine. However, it is not uncommon for small crystals containing calcium, oxalate, phosphate, and in rare cases, uric acid or cystine. Usually these crystals (or stones) are small enough to pass harmlessly through the ureters and out through the bladder. But sometimes, the stones can become lodged in the kidneys, growing in size, until they suddenly and unexpectedly pass into the ureters. When this happens, they block the flow of urine, which causes extreme discomfort and cramping. Then, as the ureters try to pass them, they often cause extreme pain, probably due to the fact that their jagged edges are scraping the walls of the ureters. In most cases, the stones will eventually pass into the bladder to be expelled, but in some cases, doctor intervention is required. This generally consists of taking a medication to flush the system or in extreme instances, surgery.
While kidney stones are believed to be caused by high levels of calcium or other crystallizing agents in the body, the major contributing factor to their formation is dehydration. If there is not enough fluid passing through the kidneys to keep them properly flushed, crystals are bound to form in those prone to kidney stones (if you’ve had one, you’re susceptible to repeating the process). While many doctors recommend that patients cut down on foods that are high in calcium (such as spinach, peanuts, and chocolate, to name a few) drinking plenty of water is equally important. As adults, we should be drinking eight glasses a day anyway (or 64 ounces). This is not only beneficial to our overall health; it is also the best known way to prevent the occurrence of kidney stones.