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Kidney stones - self-care

Renal calculi and self-care; Nephrolithiasis and self-care; Stones and kidney - self-care; Calcium stones and self-care; Oxalate stones and self-care; Uric acid stones and self-care

A kidney stone is a solid mass made up of tiny crystals. Your health care provider may ask you to take self-care steps to treat kidney stones or prevent them from returning.

What to Expect at Home

You visited your provider or the hospital because you have a kidney stone. You will need to take self-care steps. Which steps you take depend on the type of stone you have, but they may include:

  • Drinking extra water and other liquids
  • Eating more of some foods and cutting back on other foods
  • Taking medicines to help prevent stones
  • Taking medicines to help you pass a stone (anti-inflammatory drugs, alpha-blockers)

You may be asked to try to catch your kidney stone. You can do this by collecting all of your urine and straining it. Your provider will tell you how to do this.

What is a Kidney Stone?

A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms in a kidney. A stone can get stuck as it leaves the kidney. It can lodge in one of your two ureters (the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder), the bladder, or the urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder to outside your body).

Kidney stones may be the size of sand or gravel, as large as a pearl, or even larger. A stone can block the flow of your urine and cause great pain. A stone may also break loose and travel through your urinary tract all the way out of your body without causing too much pain.

There are four major types of kidney stones.

  • Calcium is the most common type of stone. Calcium can combine with other substances, such as oxalate (the most common substance), to form the stone.
  • A uric acid stone may form when your urine contains too much acid.
  • A struvite stone may form after an infection in your urinary system.
  • Cystine stones are rare. The disease that causes cystine stones runs in families.

Fluids

Drinking a lot of fluid is important for treating and preventing all types of kidney stones. Staying hydrated (having enough fluid in your body) will keep your urine diluted. This makes it harder for stones to form.

  • Water is best.
  • You can also drink ginger ale, lemon-lime sodas, and fruit juices.
  • Drink enough liquids throughout the day to make at least 2 quarts (2 liters) of urine every 24 hours.
  • Drink enough to have light-colored urine. Dark yellow urine is a sign you are not drinking enough.

Limit your coffee, tea, and cola to 1 or 2 cups (250 or 500 milliliters) a day. Caffeine may cause you to lose fluid too quickly, which can make you dehydrated.

Diet and Calcium Stones

Follow these guidelines if you have calcium kidney stones:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water.
  • Eat less salt. Chinese and Mexican food, tomato juice, regular canned foods, and processed foods are often high in salt. Look for low-salt or unsalted products.
  • Have only 2 or 3 servings a day of foods with a lot of calcium, such as milk, cheese, yogurt, oysters, and tofu.
  • Eat lemons or oranges, or drink fresh lemonade. Citrate in these foods prevents stones from forming.
  • Limit how much protein you eat. Choose lean meats.
  • Eat a low-fat diet.

DO NOT take extra calcium or vitamin D, unless the provider who is treating your kidney stones recommends it.

  • Watch out for antacids that contain extra calcium. Ask your provider which antacids are safe for you to take.
  • Your body still needs the normal amount of calcium you get from your daily diet. Limiting calcium may actually increase the chance that stones will form.

Ask your provider before taking vitamin C or fish oil. They may be harmful to you.

If your provider says you have calcium oxalate stones, you may also need to limit foods that are high in oxalate. These foods include:

  • Fruits: rhubarb, currants, canned fruit salad, strawberries, and Concord grapes
  • Vegetables: beets, leeks, summer squash, sweet potatoes, spinach, and tomato soup
  • Drinks: tea and instant coffee
  • Other foods: grits, tofu, nuts, and chocolate

Diet and Uric Acid Stones

Avoid these foods if you have uric acid stones:

  • Alcohol
  • Anchovies
  • Asparagus
  • Baking or brewer's yeast
  • Cauliflower
  • Consommé
  • Gravy
  • Herring
  • Legumes (dried beans and peas)
  • Mushrooms
  • Oils
  • Organ meats (liver, kidney, and sweetbreads)
  • Sardines
  • Spinach

Other suggestions for your diet include:

  • DO NOT eat more than 3 ounces (85 grams) of meat at each meal.
  • Avoid fatty foods such as salad dressings, ice cream, and fried foods.
  • Eat enough carbohydrates.
  • Eat more lemons and oranges, and drink lemonade because the citrate in these foods stops stones from forming.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, particularly water.

If you are losing weight, lose it slowly. Quick weight loss may cause uric acid stones to form.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your provider if you have:

  • Very bad pain in your back or side that will not go away
  • Blood in your urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
  • A burning feeling when you urinate

References

Bushinsky DA. Nephrolithiasis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 126.

Lipkin ME, Ferrandino MN, Preminger GM. Evaluation and medical management of urinary lithiasis. In: Wein AJ, Kavoussi LR, Partin AW, Peters CA, eds. Campbell-Walsh Urology. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 52.

  • Kidney stones

    Animation

  •  

    Kidney stones - Animation

    If you ever have severe pain in your belly or one side of your back that comes and goes suddenly, you may be passing a kidney stone. Let's talk about the painful condition of kidney stones. A kidney stone is a mass of tiny crystals in your kidney or urinary tract. Stones are quite common, and tend to run in families. They can form in weeks or months when your urine contains too much of certain substances. There are several kinds of kidney stones. Calcium stones are by far the most common kind. They often form in men between the ages of 20 to 30. Calcium can combine with other substances found in your food, like oxalate, phosphate, or carbonate, to form stones. Cystine stones can form in people who have cystinuria, a condition passed down through families in which stones are made from an amino acid called cystine. Struvite stones are found mostly in women who have urinary tract infections. These stones can grow very large and can block the kidney, ureter, or bladder. Uric acid stones are more common in men than in women. They can occur in people who have a history of gout or are going through chemotherapy. So, how do you know if you have kidney stones? Well, you may not have symptoms until the stone move down the ureter tubes through which urine empties into your bladder. When this happens, the stones can block the flow of urine out of your kidneys. The main symptom is severe sharp pain that starts suddenly, usually in your belly or one side of your back, and it may go away just as quickly. Other symptoms can include abnormal urine color, blood in your urine, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. So, what do you do about kidney stones? Well, your health care provider will perform a physical exam. You may need blood tests, kidney function tests, and tests that look for crystals in your urine. Several imaging tests, like a CT scan, can see stones or a blockage in your urinary tract. Treatment will depend on the type of stone you have, and how bad your symptoms are. Small kidney stones that are less than 5 mm in diameter will usually pass on their own. You should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to produce a large enough amount of urine to help bring the stone out. Pain can be pretty bad when you pass a kidney stone, so your doctor may prescribe pain medicines to help as well as medications that will help the stone pass. Other medicines can decrease stone formation or help break down and remove the material that is causing you to make stones. You may need surgery if the stone is too large to pass, the stone is growing, or the stone is blocking your urine flow. Kidney stones are painful, but you can usually pass them without causing permanent harm. However, kidney stones often come back, so you and your doctor will need to work on finding the cause of your stone. Lastly, delaying treatment can lead to serious complications, so if you think that you have kidney stones see your doctor right away.

  • Kidney pain

    Kidney pain - illustration

    A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms in a kidney. Kidney stones may be the size of sand or gravel, as large as a pearl, or even larger. A stone can block the flow of urine and cause great pain.

    Kidney pain

    illustration

  • Kidney stones

    Animation

  •  

    Kidney stones - Animation

    If you ever have severe pain in your belly or one side of your back that comes and goes suddenly, you may be passing a kidney stone. Let's talk about the painful condition of kidney stones. A kidney stone is a mass of tiny crystals in your kidney or urinary tract. Stones are quite common, and tend to run in families. They can form in weeks or months when your urine contains too much of certain substances. There are several kinds of kidney stones. Calcium stones are by far the most common kind. They often form in men between the ages of 20 to 30. Calcium can combine with other substances found in your food, like oxalate, phosphate, or carbonate, to form stones. Cystine stones can form in people who have cystinuria, a condition passed down through families in which stones are made from an amino acid called cystine. Struvite stones are found mostly in women who have urinary tract infections. These stones can grow very large and can block the kidney, ureter, or bladder. Uric acid stones are more common in men than in women. They can occur in people who have a history of gout or are going through chemotherapy. So, how do you know if you have kidney stones? Well, you may not have symptoms until the stone move down the ureter tubes through which urine empties into your bladder. When this happens, the stones can block the flow of urine out of your kidneys. The main symptom is severe sharp pain that starts suddenly, usually in your belly or one side of your back, and it may go away just as quickly. Other symptoms can include abnormal urine color, blood in your urine, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting. So, what do you do about kidney stones? Well, your health care provider will perform a physical exam. You may need blood tests, kidney function tests, and tests that look for crystals in your urine. Several imaging tests, like a CT scan, can see stones or a blockage in your urinary tract. Treatment will depend on the type of stone you have, and how bad your symptoms are. Small kidney stones that are less than 5 mm in diameter will usually pass on their own. You should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to produce a large enough amount of urine to help bring the stone out. Pain can be pretty bad when you pass a kidney stone, so your doctor may prescribe pain medicines to help as well as medications that will help the stone pass. Other medicines can decrease stone formation or help break down and remove the material that is causing you to make stones. You may need surgery if the stone is too large to pass, the stone is growing, or the stone is blocking your urine flow. Kidney stones are painful, but you can usually pass them without causing permanent harm. However, kidney stones often come back, so you and your doctor will need to work on finding the cause of your stone. Lastly, delaying treatment can lead to serious complications, so if you think that you have kidney stones see your doctor right away.

  • Kidney pain

    Kidney pain - illustration

    A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms in a kidney. Kidney stones may be the size of sand or gravel, as large as a pearl, or even larger. A stone can block the flow of urine and cause great pain.

    Kidney pain

    illustration

A Closer Look

 

Self Care

 
 

Review Date: 7/17/2018

Reviewed By: Sovrin M. Shah, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Urology, The Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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