About 13 percent of men and 7 percent of women in the US alone will have kidney stones at some point in their life. If you’ve had kidney stones, it’s an experience you probably don’t want to repeat.

The pain associated with kidney stones can be excruciating and can, in some cases, cause the person to be sent to the emergency room for treatment. Although most kidney stones pass on their own without lasting damage, if unchanged, they can occur again within five years, in up to 50 percent of people.

What exactly are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are typically masses of minerals, calcium, and oxalate, which lodge in the urinary tract . Compounds in urine generally inhibit the formation of these crystals.

Some people form stones when their urine contains more crystal-like substances, such as calcium and uric acid, than available fluid that can be diluted . If the stone is wide enough to cause clogging or irritation, severe pain is typically the result. The pain can travel to different places and change in intensity as the stones move. Other symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain when urinating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present
  • Pain spreads to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Brown, pink, or red urine
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Urinate small amounts
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Often urinating more than usual

13 warning signs of kidney stones

What makes some people more prone to developing kidney stones? There are some risks to be aware of.

1. Not enough calcium

Most kidney stones are made of calcium, so it would seem that consuming too much could be problematic . However, it is the opposite, people who eat a diet low in calcium are more likely to develop kidney stones than those who consume more calcium.

It turns out that calcium in the digestive tract binds to chemicals called oxalates from food, preventing them from entering the bloodstream and urinary tract where they can form kidney stones.

It is important to note that it is the calcium in foods that is beneficial – not calcium, which has been found in the body in large amounts, that actually increases the risk of kidney stones by 20%.

2. Obsession for green vegetables

Green leafy vegetables, particularly spinach, are rich in oxalates . These chemicals bind with calcium and must be excreted through the urinary tract, but if concentrations are high, they can become concentrated in the urine and form kidney stones.

Leafy greens are one of the healthiest foods, but if you’re struggling with kidney stones, you may want to swap high-oxalate vegetables like spinach for lower oxalate options like kale.

3. Too much processed salt

Salt, especially unprocessed natural varieties, has been unfairly labeled as a source of chronic diseases. However, excess sodium intake is what can increase the amount of calcium excreted by the kidneys, and in turn can increase the risk of kidney stones.

You don’t have to shy away from a pinch of raw salt added to your meals. Rather, cut out mostly processed foods, which is where the most hidden processed salt is.

4. Very little citrus (and vegetables of all kinds)

Citrus fruits contain citrate, a compound that can reduce your risk of kidney stones . Simply adding a dash of lemon or lime to the water can be helpful, although you can increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.

Magnesium also plays an important role in your body’s absorption and assimilation of calcium. For example, if you consume too much calcium without adequate magnesium, excess calcium can become toxic to your health and contribute to health conditions such as kidney stones.

5. Too much iced tea

Black tea is a rich source of oxalate, so excessive consumption can increase the risk of stone formation . Earlier this year, the New England Journal of Medicine reported the case of a 56-year-old man who was drinking 16 eight-ounce glasses of iced tea daily. He was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure and was found to have abundant calcium oxalate crystals in his urine.

6. Drink sodas

Drinking soda is associated with kidney stones, possibly because the phosphorous acid it contains acidifies the urine, which promotes stone formation . Additionally, one study found that drinking soda exacerbates conditions in the urine that lead to the formation of calcium oxalate.

Sugar, including fructose, (and high fructose corn syrup), is also very problematic. A diet high in sugar can prepare you for kidney stones, since sugar alters the mineral relationships in your body by interfering with the absorption of calcium and magnesium.

Consuming unhealthy sugars and soda pop in childhood is a large factor why children as young as 5 years of age are developing kidney stones. Sugar can increase the size of the kidney and cause changes in the kidney, such as the formation of kidney stones.

7. Your parents

If you have a family history of kidney stones, your risk increases as well. It is believed that the inability to efficiently absorb oxalate may be an inherited trait.

8. Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)

If you have IBD, including Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you are at a higher risk for kidney stones . This could be because such a condition often causes diarrhea, which in turn increases the risk of dehydration – a risk factor for kidney stones.

9. Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI)

Recurring urinary tract infections can be a sign of a kidney stone in some cases, as the stones can block the flow of urine leading to urinary infections. If you have frequent UTIs without a cause, you should get checked for kidney stones (which you may have without knowing it).

10. Laxative abuse

Overuse of laxatives interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and use nutrients to your advantage, and can lead to an electrolyte imbalance increasing your risk of kidney stones. Laxative abuse can lead to dehydration, another trigger for kidney stones.

11. Medications for migraine

The migraine medication called topiramate (Topamax) increases pH levels in the urinary tract, which can lead to an increased risk of kidney stones.

12. Obesity

It is believed that being overweight can lead to changes in the urinary tract (eg, urinary pH) that promote the formation of kidney stones.

13. Surgery

You should be aware that although obesity increases the risk of kidney stones, surgery that alters the digestive tract actually makes them more common. After this type of surgery, oxalate levels are typically much higher (oxalate is the most common type of kidney stone crystal).

What is the main risk factor for getting kidney stones

Do not drink water

The number one risk factor for kidney stones is not drinking enough water . If you are not drinking enough water, your urine has higher concentrations of substances that can form stones. According to recent guidelines issued by the American College of Physicians (ACP), one of the simplest strategies you can take to avoid kidney stones is to drink more water.

Urine has various residues dissolved in it. When there is too much waste in too little, crystals begin to form. The crystals attract other elements and join together to form a more solid one that will get larger unless it passes out of the body with urine. For most people, drinking enough fluids stops a stone from forming.

The National Kidney Foundation recommends drinking more than 12 glasses of water a day, and they point out that an easy way to tell if you’re drinking enough water is by checking the color of your urine: a pale yellow is light; darker urine is more concentrated . Each person’s water requirement is different, depending on their system level and activity, the goal is simply to keep your urine pale yellow and with that you are going a long way towards preventing kidney stones.

Prevention is, at best, preferable than suffering from kidney stone episodes. Make sure you are drinking a lot of water in the first place. Eat well, including lots of vegetables, and avoid sodas and high-fructose foods, such as processed foods.

Consumption in profit

Eating too much fructose is correlated with an increased risk of developing kidney stones. Fructose can be found in table sugar and high fructose corn syrup in soda pop and many processed sweetened products. In some individuals, fructose can be metabolized to oxalate.

Finally, you should know that exercising regularly is very important. Even exercise in low amounts can be beneficial in reducing the risk of getting kidney stones.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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