Kidney stones and how to keep your kidneys healthy

UnityPoint Health Center for Urology provides comprehensive treatment for disorders affecting the male and female urinary tract. Our team treats conditions such as prostate cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, benign prostatic hypertrophy, erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, recurrent urinary tract infections, fertility and kidney stones. Typically, the organs considered part of the urology discipline are the kidneys, ureters, bladder, prostate, urethra, adrenal glands and male reproductive organs.

Below are commonly asked questions regarding kidney stones as well as tips on how to keep your kidneys healthy.

What causes kidney stones? Diet and genetics are the two biggest risk factors, but there are several others:

• Gender: Historically, men are two to three times more likely to get stones than women.

• Race: Caucasians are more likely to develop kidney stones.

• Age: Stone occurrence peaks in people aged 35-45 years.

• Geography and climate: Areas with hot and dry climates tend to have a higher incidence of stone disease.

• Chronic dehydration: Chronic lack of appropriate fluid intake can increase risk.

• Presence of metabolic syndrome: A condition characterized by a cluster of disease processes including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat and abnormal cholesterol levels, also has been found to increase a patient’s risk of stone disease.

Can you prevent kidney stones? We recommend dietary modifications in all patients with a history of kidney stones to prevent recurrence. In certain instances, patients can undergo metabolic testing to aid in identifying a cause for recurrent kidney stone formation. This testing involves blood tests and a urine collection test to identify abnormalities that we can target with dietary modifications or medications to prevent or delay the formation of new kidney stones.

How can I keep my kidneys healthy?

1. Lower your blood pressure

High blood pressure can damage your kidneys. It damages the blood vessels in the kidneys, and they can’t function if they don’t receive blood. Damaged blood vessels don’t let the right amount of blood enter the kidneys to get cleaned. This damage could cause a buildup of waste in your blood.

2. Quit smoking

Smoking reduces your blood flow and can prevent enough blood from reaching the kidneys. Kidneys that do not get enough blood cannot function properly. Smoking also increases your chances of developing kidney cancer.

3. Exercise

Keeping active and fit are important for your overall health. Exercise can help to reduce blood pressure, a major factor in kidney problems.

4. Stay at a healthy weight

The kidneys have to work harder in the bodies of those who are overweight to make up for the extra body mass. It takes more effort to filter out waste and manage the body’s other functions when there is more body mass to regulate.

5. Eat healthy foods

A common problem in the kidneys is kidney stones. Kidney stones start as crystals that grow over time. This condition can sometimes be resolved with a change in the diet. Almost 90 percent of stones can be prevented by increased fluid intake and a low sodium diet.

Reducing your salt intake can significantly reduce many of the risk factors for other kidney problems. Cooking your food at home instead of going out can substantially cut out the salt from processed foods.

6. Manage blood sugar

Having diabetes is a significant factor in kidney disease. High blood sugar levels can cause problems with the kidneys. Diabetes causes small blood vessels in the body to die. When the blood vessels in the kidneys are affected, they can’t work properly. Since a primary function of the kidneys is to clean the blood, injured blood vessels cause more waste to build up in the blood.

High blood sugar can also cause bacteria to build up faster in your bladder. This bacteria can cause urinary tract infections (UTIs) that can eventually travel up into your kidneys and cause a kidney infection. Untreated kidney infections can spread to the bloodstream, causing severe illness.

Symptoms associated with having a kidney infection include:

• Fever;

• Back, side or groin pain;

• Abdominal pain;

• Frequent urination;

• Burning sensation or pain when urinating;

• Pus or blood in urine;

• Bad smelling or cloudy urine.

The National Kidney Foundation recommends that those with diabetes have their kidneys tested for kidney disease every year.

7. Drink water

Keeping hydrated helps your kidneys function normally and assists as they remove salt and toxins from your body. It is not advised that you drink excessive amounts of water at one time, but increase your water intake slightly over the day. Drinking plenty of water can also help prevent the development of kidney stones.

8. Know your family history

Some kidney diseases are inherited. Diabetes and high blood pressure also tend to run in families, and will increase your likelihood of developing kidney problems. Talk with your family members about all of these conditions to determine if you have a high risk of kidney problems like kidney infections, kidney stones and kidney disease.

9. Get your kidneys tested

There are two types of tests that can help you make sure your kidneys are healthy. A urine tests will determine what types of protein and albumin are in your urine. Different types can indicate kidney disease. A blood test will find out how much waste is in your blood, and will also determine if your kidneys are doing their job properly. Your doctor can administer and read these tests and discuss any problems with you.

10. Watch your medications

The kidneys are responsible for removing drugs from the body. Taking a lot of over-the-counter pain relievers for extended periods of time can cause damage to the kidneys. The types of drugs that can hurt the kidneys are non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Those who take these medications to manage chronic pain should talk to their doctor about a pain relieving method that won’t do damage to their kidneys. Toxins, pesticides and illegal substances also cause kidney damage.

Eric J. Askeland, M.D. and Jordan Reeder, ARNP, are from UnityPoint Health Center for Urology.