Kidney stone 101: Why they happen & what to do about them


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It’s easy for relatively healthy people to take their kidneys for granted, but the bean-shaped organs are pretty remarkable. They are the body’s filters, and according to the National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse, kidneys “process about 200 quarts of blood to sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water.”

We put our kidneys through a lot, but depending on our diets, including the amount of water we drink, they can’t always keep up with us.


What are kidney stones?

The National Kidney Foundation explains that kidney stones result when the ratio of waste products to extra water — or urine — filtered by the kidneys is off. “When there is too much waste in too little liquid, crystals begin to form.” These crystals or large deposits can vary in size. If they are really small, you’ll eliminate them in your urine, perhaps without even realizing that there was a problem.

But kidney stones can be quite large as well, and depending on the size, eliminating them may be extremely painful or require medical intervention so you can pass them safely. It’s not fun times.

All kidney stones are not created equal, either. There are different types, the most common of which, according to the Mayo Clinic, are calcium stones. Other types include struvite, uric acid, cystine and, of course, even rarer types that your doctor can diagnose.



Keeping in mind that you may not realize you’re passing kidney stones if they're small enough, it’s important to know some of the symptoms that may manifest if you have them. WebMD explains that if the stones stay in the kidney, you might not feel any pain, either. The problem occurs when the stones travel through the urinary tract and cause a blockage.

Symptoms include nausea and vomiting, blood in the urine, severe pain in the “back, side, abdomen, groin or genitals,” and frequent and painful urination.


What to do?

If you feel any of those symptoms, get thee to a doctor. The symptoms overlap with other conditions, and if it is a case of kidney stones, there is a chance that there may be a urinary tract infection complicating matters.

Your doctor is going to ask you if you are taking any medication. Don’t forget to list any vitamins and supplements you are taking. Follow your doctor’s instructions to the letter. We can’t say that enough.


The downside (yes, there's more bad news)

So the bummer is that once you’ve had kidney stones, you’re prone to getting them. This doesn’t mean you definitely will have a recurrence or that you have to eliminate “highly acidic foods” or “foods or beverages high in oxalates, such as spinach, rhubarb, tomatoes, chocolate, coffee and black tea.” Balance is essential. Don’t have spinach twice a day every day, otherwise you might find yourself back in agonyville, population you.

WebMD recommends keeping salt and salty foods in check, getting your calcium from food rather than from supplements (if you’ve had a calcium stone), increasing your fiber and — always, always, always — drinking plenty of water. And be sure to ask your doctor what dosage of vitamins C and D you should take following a bout of kidney stones.


Home remedies

Yes, there are home remedies, but they do not replace seeking medical attention and treatment, and — just as importantly — if you are going to go the home remedy route, tell your doctor before you do it to make sure you won’t do more harm than good.

Promise? All right.

Reader’s Digest suggests drinking parsley leaf and root tea, for example, because parsley helps you go sissy-tinkle and is also believed to increase blood flow to the kidney — so, basically, good circulation.

Livestrong suggests drinking corn silk tea. Like parsley, corn silk tea lets you urinate more, but it’s also a diuretic, so make sure you are also drinking your water or you may end up exacerbating things.

Livestrong also suggests potato peel. Yup, potato peel. According to the article, you can eat it raw, baked or boiled, or you can steep it in water and drink the potato water. The article warns, however, “Exercise caution eating potato peel too green in color; it may contain an alkaloid toxin called solanine, which can irritate the genito-urinary system.”


Got any home remedies you’d like to suggest? Let us know in the comments.