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Let’s talk about kidney stones! If you have never had one, be glad.  f you are wondering what all the fuss is about, this article just might help you a little. Over the years, patients have told me that kidney stones compared to natural childbirth or their heart attack in the past. This kind of pain is what I call the almighty equalizer. Bringing grown men to their knees and causing adults to scream out loud in pain. What are they and what can you do to hopefully avoid this pesky diagnosis?

Kidney stones are a collection of minerals and salts that collectively form a pebble like substance in the kidneys. These formations can be as small as a grain of salt or as large as a kernel of corn. They can be yellow or brownish in color and generally form when there is a combination of too much mineral and not enough fluid volume.  One source mentioned a comparison of trying to mix a powdered drink mix in not enough liquid. Without enough liquid, the power clumps and becomes hard, dry chunks. That can give you a visual of what can happen inside the kidneys with development of stones.

This problem occurs more often in men, but women can present with them as well.

How do you know if you have kidney stones? You may not know that is initially what the problem is.  Patients normally figure out pretty quickly that they must seek emergency care. Most often patients present to the ER with any of the following list of complaints:

  • Pretty significant flank (below your ribs), groin or back
  • Generally, this pain comes in waves
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Bloody or pink tinged urine
  • Painful urination or sometimes difficulty passing urine
  • Urinary frequency (small amounts each time is common)
  • Sweating

A diagnosis of kidney stones can be ascertained by the ER physician with several diagnostic examinations including blood work, urinalysis and CT scan.

Treatment of pain and optimizing hydration are the key elements of management in the emergency department. This will allow the kidney stones to be passed through the urinary tract and out the urethra.  Sometimes this process is quick and other times it takes longer.

If the stone is not passed at the emergency room but the physician feels it is one that will pass without additional medical intervention, at home management can include the following as recommended by your physician:

  • Drink enough water for your urine to appear almost clear in color
  • Take over the counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
  • Strain urine to see if you can obtain a sample of the stone (mostly needed for patients with recurrent stones).  Collect sample in a urine collection cup and take with you to the urologist, if that is part of the follow up plan.

For kidney stones that are not passing naturally (due to size or location), a patient might require referral/transfer to a urologist that can perform procedures to help the break down or removal of a stone.

For patients with recurrent kidney stones, a specialist can analyze the stones and determine ways to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. This frequently includes dietary changes based on the mineral composition of the stones.

Kidney stone prevention includes:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Cut back on sodium and salty foods
  • Reducing soft drinks

Ally Medical ER physicians commonly take care of patients with these types of medical emergencies and are very capable of diagnosing and managing your symptoms.