Kidney stones are inconvenient, often unexpected and notoriously painful. More than 10 percent of Americans will suffer from a kidney stone at some point in their lives, and a person who has already had a stone has a 40 percent chance of developing another. Fortunately, many of these stones can be prevented by minor lifestyle changes.In order to prevent kidney stones, it is important to understand how they develop. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located on the back of the torso. They remove excess fluid, electrolytes and waste from the blood. They also help regulate salts, phosphates and other substances. Stones develop in the kidneys when there is an imbalance between these substances. The most common stones are a combination of calcium and oxalate or phosphate. These substances crystallize together if they are too highly concentrated.
Kidney stones can occur with little warning. A person is not likely to have noticeable symptoms unless the stone causes a blockage or is accompanied by an infection. However, some potential signs of a stone include bloody or cloudy urine and the constant urge to urinate. A person generally becomes aware of the stone when it dislodges itself from the kidney and moves through the urinary tract. This event is marked by excruciating pain that lasts until the stone has passed.
A great number of kidney stones pass without causing any permanent damage. Studies indicate that more than 80 percent of stones pass through urination. For stones that do not pass on their own, physicians often prescribe extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. In this procedure, shock waves are sent through the patient's back and the stones are broken into sand like particles that pass more easily. During PCNL, percutaneous nephrolithotomy, doctors can remove kidney stones through an incision in the back, or, if the stone moves to the ureter, they can pass a fiber optic instrument through the ureter and break the stone up with a laser.
One effective way to prevent stones is to drink plenty of water. If the body is not provided with sufficient fluids, the concentration of other substances becomes too high. These substances are filtered out by the kidneys, and if they are too concentrated, stones can develop. Another way to prevent stones is to have a balanced diet. Too much salt and animal protein increases the chance of developing a stone while plenty of whole grains, potassium and magnesium help lower that risk.
Finally, an active lifestyle helps prevent kidney stones. Low physical activity causes the bones to release calcium into the bloodstream, eventually landing it in the kidneys.
Not all kidney stones can be prevented, and many factors play a role in their development. However, simple lifestyle changes can reduce your chances of developing one. If you would like to learn more about the causes and treatment of stones, make an appointment to speak with a physician.
Dr. Chiusano is on staff at Jennersville Regional Hospital in West Grove. He received his medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine in Philadelphia. He completed a residency at both Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine and Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia. He received additional training in the area of urologic oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and pediatric urology at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. He is board certified and a member of the American Osteopathic Association, American College of Osteopathic Surgeons and the Pennsylvania Osteopathic Medical Association. His office is located on the campus of Jennersville Regional Hospital, in Suite 312. He can be reached at