Dont ask me. Ask the women who have experienced both. The saying goes that the pain from passing kidney stones is worse than childbirth.
Yet the passage of kidney stones is a relatively common event. Fortunately for most, there are often some simple dietary measures that may reduce the recurrence of these unpleasant events.
First, lets start with a little anatomy lesson. The kidneys sit deep inside the flank where they filter blood and perform a host of other functions for the body. The result of filtration is the formation of urine, which passes from the kidney into the ureter, a small tube connecting the kidney to the bladder.
Urinary stones form in the kidney but rarely cause symptoms in that location. The ureter is a muscular tube of small caliber. Heres where the problem is often first noticed. As a stone begins to pass through the ureter, muscular contractions in the tube produce spasms of pain. The pain is often sudden and severe and may last for minutes or hours until the stone reaches the bladder.
The pain from passing a kidney stone often starts in the flank and may radiate to the groin. Not uncommonly, the pain is so severe it produces nausea and vomiting. Kidney stone sufferers often seek urgent medical attention for pain relief, and first-time sufferers often want assurance that something more serious isnt going on.
The diagnosis of kidney stones often results from an X-ray or CAT scan of the abdomen prompted by the onset of an episode of pain. Most stones are visible on radiographic pictures.
Yet while an X-ray may assist in diagnosing kidney stones, it provides few clues to the type or cause of the stones. Urine and blood analysis may provide more information. Yet often the most useful clue is evaluating the stone itself.
After a stone passes into the bladder, it often freely passes outside the body in the urine. Straining the urine to capture the stone allows for analysis of the stones composition.
More than 90 percent of kidney stones contain calcium, an essential mineral involved in bone health. In most instances, the stone forms because too much calcium is being filtered into the urine.
Once the composition of the stone is known, there are some preventive measures that can reduce the risk of a recurrence. For instance, it has been shown that people who consume more than 2½ liters per day of fluids are 30 percent less likely to experience recurrence of kidney stones.
If stones are composed of calcium, then paradoxically an increase in dietary calcium intake can reduce the risk of stone recurrence. This has to do with the binding up of other minerals in the gut that contribute to calcium stones. Occasionally dietary citrate supplements or foods high in citric acid such as lemon juice may reduce calcium stone formation.
Because kidney stones increase the risk of kidney injury, all people who experience kidney stones should consult with a medical provider to discuss prevention, treatment options and monitoring of kidney function.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.