At some point in our lives, most of us know someone who has struggled through the pain of a kidney stone, and it makes us want to avoid getting one ourselves. There are steps you can take to minimize the likelihood of getting a kidney stone, but research has not determined a foolproof way to avoid them altogether.
What is a Kidney Stone
98% of all kidney stones are collections of calcium, chemicals, and uric acid that collect and harden in the kidneys. Some kidney stones stay in the kidneys and do not cause any problems. But some kidney stones are passed out of the body through the urethra, which can cause anything from mild discomfort to significant pain, depending on the size of the stone.
Kidney stones are fairly common. The lifetime incidence is 13% for men and 7% for women. Once you have a kidney stone, you are much more likely to have another one at some point in your life.1
What to Drink When You Have Kidney Stones
The best way to prevent kidney stones is to drink plenty of liquids, mostly water. Unless you have kidney disease, the recommended amount is six to eight (8-ounce) glasses per day. Water is also very important if you currently have a kidney stone, and you are trying to help it pass without medical intervention. One study showed that drinking orange juice daily might prevent repeat kidney stones better than other citrus drinks3.
What to Eat When You Have Kidney Stones
Most of the time, kidney stones are primarily made up of salt (calcium), so it makes sense to reduce the overall intake of salt. The DASH diet (discussed below) can help with this, as can salt substitutes, or just training your palate to like foods with less salt. In addition, many processed foods are high in salt, so always read the nutrition label when purchasing canned, frozen, or other packaged foods. The nutrition label will clearly state how much sodium is in each serving.
There is some indication that antacids containing calcium can cause kidney stones if taken in large quantities. You should discuss this with your doctor if you are concerned about the antacids you are taking.
Guidelines Based On the Type of Kidney Stone You Have
If you have had a kidney stone, understanding what type of kidney stone you had, along with making changes to the way you eat, can help you prevent a recurrence.
As stated above, most kidney stones are made up of salt (calcium) and uric acid. Studies have shown that the DASH diet, an acronym for the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, can reduce the risk of kidney stones. The DASH diet is an eating plan consisting of a balance of fruits, vegetables, fish, poultry, low-fat dairy, and whole grains, while limiting the consumption of saturated fat and sugar. You can find out more about the DASH diet here. Studies have also shown that being overweight makes a person more likely to develop kidney stones, so losing weight may help.
1% of kidney stones are called cystine kidney stones. These occur in people who have an inherited genetic disorder called cystinuria, which results in an excess of an amino acid called cystine in the urine, leading to cystine stones. People with cystinuria must drink large quantities of water to flush the cystine from their urine as effectively as possible.
When to Call the Doctor
Only a doctor can definitively diagnose the presence of a kidney stone. You should see a doctor if you have the following symptoms of a kidney stone2:
- You can't get comfortable or alleviate belly pain no matter what position you are in: standing, sitting, or lying down
- You have nausea and serious pain in your abdomen or lower back
- You notice blood in your urine
- You have a hard time trying to pee