Fancy Squeezing One of THESE Bad Boys Out Through Your Urethra?
Caution: The following article may make you really, really thirsty.
In case you’ve never seen one in the flesh, the ugly little bugger pictured right is a kidney stone. Never had one? Then you my friend are one lucky son of a gun! Passing a kidney stone can be one of the most excruciating experiences in a person’s life. Worse still once you’ve had your first one, the likelihood of recurrence skyrockets.
For me, the most dreaded part of getting older is not hair loss, wrinkles, nor the realisation of getting older in general, but the increased chances of having to squeeze one of these bad boys out through my urethra.
Kidney stones are most common in people in their 40’s and older. Men are up to 4 times more likely to develop kidney stones than women, with a 1 in 10 chance to the female 1 in 35. Living in a temperate climate like Australia stacks the odds even further against you!
The good news is that securing your spot amongst the lucky 9 (or lucky 34 if you’re a woman) is actually quiet easy! Why? Because the majority of kidney stones can be prevented simply by drinking more water.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Our kidneys require water to dissolve and remove waste products from the body, including unused salts and minerals. Insufficient water in the body can cause excess salts and minerals to accumulate on the kidney’s inner lining. These deposits stick together, gradually forming into a solid, crystalline mass known as a kidney stone.
Kidney stones can be as small as grains of sand or as large as golf balls! On rare occasions they can be even larger again – in a recent case in Hungary doctors surgically removed a kidney stone from a man that was the size of a coconut (the stone, not the man of course). That said, when it comes to kidney stones, it’s not so much the size that gets you, but the surface.
Kidney stones have rough, jagged edges that scrape and grind as they force their way through your urinary tract, especially when squeezing through your ureter (the narrowest of the tubes). Aside from excruciating pain, these sharp edges can cause damage and scarring in the kidneys. In worst case scenarios this tissue damage can lead to chronic kidney disease (CKD) or even kidney failure!
How to Treat Them
Small kidney stones can usually be passed naturally by drinking lots of water (and taking some very strong pain killers). If the kidney stone is too big or gets stuck along the way, medical intervention may be required. This usually takes the form of one of the following:
Lithotripsy – (The shock wave method) The urologist uses shock waves to crush the kidney stone into multiple smaller pieces, in the hope that these smaller pieces can then pass naturally through your urinary tract.
Ureteroscopy – (similar to a colonoscopy – but twice the fun!). The urologist feeds a ureteroscope (aka long, skinny tube with an eyepiece on the top) up through your urethra, through the bladder and into the ureter. Once located, the urologist attempts to remove or break it up into smaller pieces using laser energy.
Perccutaneous Nephrolithotomy – (getting the knife out) The urologist makes a small incision in your lower back and inserts a nephroscope (another long skinny camera tube) directly into the kidney to locate and remove the stone. For larger stones, shock waves may also be used.
With each treatment more terrifying and difficult to pronounce than the one before, you can take solace in the fact that these jagged little beasts, while vicious, are also highly avoidable.
How to prevent Kidney Stones
Dehydration due to lack of drinking or inadequate fluid replacement after strenuous exercise is the primary culprit for the formation of common kidney stones.
Living in temperate climates increases the risk of developing kidney stones due to the more likely occurrence of dehydration. A sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, high sugar and high processed salt diets further increase your chances.
If you have never had a kidney stone, and don’t fancy getting one anytime soon, your best course of action is ABH – Always Be Hydrating! Aim to drink at least 6 – 8 glasses of water per day, and increase this intake when exercising or working in warm temperatures. A good tip is to carry a drink bottle around with you or keep one on your desk, we tend to drink more when fluid is readily accessible.
As with most other ailments, it also helps to have balance in your diet. Excessive intake of calcium, protein, sugar and processed salt especifically increase likelihood of kidney stone formation. It is not necessary to rule these foods out, but simply to follow the rule of everything in moderation.
Lastly, talk to your doctor if you have a history of kidney stones in your family. Some types of kidneys stones (known as cystine stones) stem from a genetic disorder. These are less common, but if you have a history in your family it is best to get it checked out.
If you’re not already running to the tap and filling your 5th glass of water, the following image should provide a final dose of motivation. (It was also the inspiration for this article).