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The Stone-Cold Facts About Kidney Stones

Posted by Philip Ho, M.D. on Nov 9, 2016, 9:08:00 AM

Chances are, you’ve either had kidney stones or known someone who has – they’re a fairly common ailment. But like so many illnesses, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding kidney stones, some of which might actually increase your chances of getting stones if you buy into them. Let’s dispel some of the most popular myths I’ve heard.

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Myth: Drinking milk causes kidney stones.

Fact: Dietary calcium does not cause kidney stones. In fact, in some cases additional calcium in their diet and adding things like milk and yogurt may help to prevent kidney stones. 

Myth: Drinking cranberry juice will help you pass kidney stones or help prevent them altogether.

Fact: Drinking cranberry juice may help to prevent urinary tract infections but not kidney stones. If you’re looking for something to drink with flavor that can help prevent kidney stones, your best bet is lemon juice and orange juice. 

Myth: Alcohol, tea, coffee and soda cause kidney stones.

Fact: This is a commonly held belief. What we know is that oxalate and phosphoric acid, which occur in some teas and carbonated beverages, can cause stones, but the water in these drinks seems to be enough to prevent them. That doesn’t mean you have a free pass to drink all the soda, coffee, tea and alcohol you want. They can be bad for your health for other reasons, but there’s no evidence that drinking them is a definite kidney-stone sentence. 

Myth: If you have a kidney stone, you will feel it in your kidneys.

Fact: Pain from kidney stones typically occurs when the stone is either passing or obstructing. If the stone is just sitting in the kidney, it is not uncommon that you will not experience any discomfort. Kidney stone pain usually starts in the back, then travels towards the lower back/lower abdomen/pelvis as it travels down the ureter.  

Myth: Kidney stones take a few hours to pass.

Fact: Kidney stones can take days or even weeks to pass. If you’re having pain it’s imperative you see your doctor. Sometimes, additional medical intervention is required to make sure the stone passes. If you let it go too long, your kidney could begin to lose function. Of course, this is extremely rare, but it’s not worth the risk. You should seek emergent care if your stone is causing you severe pain, nausea/vomiting, fevers, if you only have one kidney, or if you are pregnant.  

Myth: A kidney stone diagnosis means the stones should be removed.

Fact: Some stones, particularly those smaller than 4 millimeters, may be eliminated, or passed by itself without intervention. In other cases, the stones can be crushed with ultrasound, followed by natural elimination. Only in cases when the stones are large is removal through endoscopic surgery necessary. 

A Few More Facts

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Avoiding kidney stones is easier if you have all the facts, so here’s a few more you should know. 

  • Dehydration is a major risk factor in kidney stone formation, so stay hydrated with lots of water and other fluids.
  • If you have pain in your abdomen or notice blood in your urine, it’s possible you have a kidney stone. See your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Kidney stone formation can be hereditary, so take extra precautions if you have a family member who is prone to stones.
  • Having one stone greatly increases your chances of having another. Without the right medications and diet adjustments, stones can come back, and recurring kidney stones could also be a sign of other health issues, such as kidney disease.

Have you had kidney stones? What was your treatment plan?

Ho_Philip.pngDr. Philip Ho is a Urology specialist at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic. Kidney stones are among his clinical interests, as well as prostate cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, adrenal cancer, penile cancer and benign prostatic hyperplasia (BPH). Dr. Ho is accepting new patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Main Campus, Spring Medical and Diagnostic Center and Clear Lake Clinic.


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