There is a common misconception that kidney stones only happen to older men. Unfortunately, while men are more likely to suffer from kidney stones, women can also develop them!
Instead of sitting back and hoping it doesn’t happen to you, read up on the causes, symptoms, and treatments, so you can take care of yourself in case you’re at risk!
Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals that accumulate in your kidney; these are quite painful when it is time to pass the stone through the urinary tract, although they shouldn’t cause any lasting damage.
The stones are formed when the urine is concentrated, causing the minerals and salts within the urine to stick together, eventually forming a stone. There are crystallization materials in urine (like calcium and uric acid), and when these materials happen in high concentrations, kidney stones are formed.
There is no definite cause of kidney stones, but these items play a role:
- Diets high in calcium, protein, sodium, and sugar
- Supplements or medications
- Family or personal history
Kidney stones usually don’t cause symptoms until the stone moves around in the kidney and onto the urinary tract - if we could catch them immediately, after all, the stones wouldn’t have time to develop!
Here are some symptoms to look out for:
- Sharp pain in the side or back
- Radiating, wave-like pain in the lower abdomen or groin
- Pain or burning while urinating
- Pink, brown, or red urine (blood in urine)
- Cloudy or stinky urine
- Pressing urge to urinate, often in small amounts
- Nausea, vomiting
- Fever and chills (if infection occurs)
Many of these symptoms overlap with UTI’s, which many women have experience with. Notice the symptoms that will make a kidney stone stand out: such as sharp pain in the back or side.
When in doubt, it’s always best to see a doctor - don’t self-diagnose or leave it be. Whether you have a UTI or a kidney stone, you should get treatment.
To test if a patient has a kidney stone, doctors may run a blood test, a urine test, and imaging tests (ultrasound, x-ray, CT scan). These results will indicate and locate a kidney stone.
Once the doctor determines you have a kidney stone, the next step is determined by the size and location of the stone. If the stone is small, doctors will likely prescribe pain medications and instruct you to drink LOTS of water, allowing you to pass the stone on your own.
(If you suffer from frequent kidney stones - and once you have one, you are more likely to have another - a doctor may ask you to collect the stone so it can be examined, allowing doctors to figure out exactly what may be causing the stones.)
If the stone is large and stuck, there are a couple of options. There are procedures, using a laser or shock wave, to break the stone into smaller pieces so that it can be passed. There is also surgery, where a doctor will insert a tube into the ureter and remove the stone manually.
That sounds pretty uncomfortable - so how can you make sure it doesn’t happen to you?
Like we said, there is no one cause of kidney stones. But there are things you can do to mitigate your chances.
- First, drink lots of water. This will hopefully keep your urine from crystalizing, thus preventing the formation of kidney stones.
- Watch your diet. Try to avoid diets rich in calcium, sodium, and animal proteins. (As stated, doctors may be able to collect and examine your stones to give you a more specific plan of what to avoid.)
- Take your medications, report any risk factors to doctors, get checked if you are worried.
It’s not glamorous, but anyone who has ever had a painful UTI or infection will know that it is incredibly uncomfortable to live with this pain. The best you can do is keep an eye out and be aware!