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Hydration, low-sodium diet key to avoiding kidney stones

kidney-stoneDry conditions in Central Texas not only affect crops and cows, but they also affect the number of patients suffering from kidney stones.

“The main cause of the vast majority of stones is the simple lack of fluid intake—dehydration—especially in Texas in a dry year,” said Scott & White urologist, Bernard Morris, Jr, MD, FACS. “We live in the stone belt, a portion of the country with increased stone incidence due to the heat.”

With an increase in temperature comes an increase in dehydration, which leads to kidney stones.

What is a kidney stone?

A kidney stone is an accumulation of the salt and minerals that are in the urine that actually do form stones.

“They are formed when there is too much of the mineral that [forms] the stone or not enough water in the urine,” Dr. Morris said.

While dehydration is the most common factor when it comes to the formation of stones, there are other causes that can be found lurking in your diet.

“One thing that can certainly contribute to kidney stones is a high-sodium diet,” he said. “Also, things that are high in a chemical called oxylate, tend to increase your risk of stone formation. Things like dark colas, nuts and some type of vegetables.”

And the next time you feel a cold coming on, don’t reach for a high dose of Vitamin C, because that could also put you at risk of developing a kidney stone.

“The breakdown of Vitamin C is oxylate, which forms in stones” Dr. Morris said. “If you take your Vitamin C supplement or a multivitamin with Vitamin C, you’re not going to get into trouble. But once people start taking mega doses—three or four grams—that’s when you get into trouble.”

Are some people more prone to kidney stones?

The majority of people are not recurrent stone formers, the urologist said. They don’t have a metabolic problem, they are simply dehydrated.

“But a small percentage of people do have a metabolic problem where they do form recurrent stones,” he said.

Those people are usually easy to spot because they form stones frequently and develop them at a younger age.

How do I know if I have a kidney stone?

“The acute onset of flank pain, nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms,” Dr. Morris said. “And it’s usually not subtle.”

Patients have described it as the worst pain ever, the doctor said. And some women have even said passing a stone was more painful than giving birth.

“It can also present with blood in the urine or with a urinary tract infection,” he said.

Other symptoms can include:

  • Abnormal urine color
  • Chills
  • Fever

How are kidney stones diagnosed and treated?

The most common study for stones is a CAT scan, but could also include an abdominal CT scan, abdominal/kidney MRI, X-rays, or a kidney ultrasound.

“The good news is the majority of people who form a stone will pass it without intervention,” Dr. Morris said. “So, then we just work on rehydrating them and controlling their pain.”

Only about five percent of patients will need some sort of procedure to treat their stones.

“We have a couple of different minimally invasive techniques,” he said. “Stones that are high in the kidney or upper ureter, we use a shock wave lithotripsy machine. But if they’re in the lower ureter, we use a urethroscope—a telescopic procedure that uses a laser to break up the stone.”

How can kidney stones be avoided?

“The top three things are hydration, hydration, hydration,” the urologist said. “Behind that is a low-sodium diet.”

Dr. Morris said that may sound easy, but the amount of fluid you drink is a habit and habits are hard to change.

“What a patient can do is measure how much they’re drinking by drinking what’s recommended—about eight to 10 glasses of water a day,” he said. “The other way is to follow the appearance of the urine.”

Urine should be clear or slightly yellow. If it looks dark or concentrated-looking, then you may not be getting enough fluid.

For more information about kidney stones, visit the Scott & White health library or the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

What are some good ways to drink more water? Does anyone have any tips?

About the author

Jessa McClure
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Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.

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Hydration, low-sodium diet key to avoiding kidney stones