We’ve all heard time and again how important it is to fuel our bodies properly. Keeping your body free of kidney stones and gallstones is another example of why a healthful diet is so important.
Gallstones and kidney stones can both grow in organs that work as filters for the body. This happens when our kidneys or gallbladders have to work hard to process extra amounts of salt, sugar, and proteins, with too little water.
Let’s learn the differences and how to lower the risks for each type of “stone.”
Kidney Stones Defined
Kidney stones are crystals made from chemicals in the urine. They form when the kidneys don’t properly filter waste, and there’s more waste than liquid in the urine. The crystals attract other elements that are usually eliminated from the body through urine. The stone may stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract to the ureter. They can be incredibly painful to pass. Stones that don’t leave the body can cause a back-up of urine in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra.
The National Kidney Foundation estimates that one in 10 people will have a kidney stone during their lifetime. Also, more than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems.
Types of Kidney Stones
There are four types and knowing which type can help you learn how to reduce your risk for future stones. Try to collect any kidney stone you pass at home and take it to your doctor for analysis.
- Calcium stones — These are the most common formed with oxalate — a substance made daily by the liver and absorbed from certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, and chocolates which have high oxalate content.
- Struvite stones — These are in response to urinary tract infections. They grow quickly and can become large with little warning.
- Uric acid stones — These form in people with excessive fluid loss due to chronic diarrhea or malabsorption, people who eat high-protein diets, and those with diabetes.
- Cystine stones — This is genetic and forms in people with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria that causes the kidneys to excrete too much of a certain amino acid.
When to See a Doctor
Symptoms can include pain in the side, back, or below the ribs. Difficulty urinating or urinating in small amounts are also symptoms. You need to see a doctor when:
- The pain in back or sides is extreme and won’t go away
- There is blood in your urine
- You have fever and chills
- You’re vomiting
- Urine smells bad or looks cloudy
- It burns to urinate
Most small stones can be removed by drinking lots of water. There are also medications that help loosen the muscles in your ureter to let you pass them more easily. Larger stones could require the use of sound waves to break them, or even surgery.
Reducing the Risk
Kidney stones are more common in non-Hispanic white people however anyone can get kidney stones. You’re more likely to get them if you’ve had them before or someone in your immediate family has had them.
You can reduce the risk by:
- Drinking 64 to 72 ounces of water a day, unless you’re limited by kidney disease
- Lowering your intake of protein, sugar, and salt
- Maintaining a healthy weight
Once again, we’re talking about organic material hardening into stone-like objects. This time it happens in the gallbladder, and it’s caused when bile stored there gets hard.
There aren’t symptoms with most gallstones. Symptoms don’t start appearing until the stones get large enough to block the bile ducts. Then sufferers begin to feel “attacks.” Symptoms include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Belching or gas
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the right shoulder
- Sensitivity to fatty foods
- Steady and severe pain in the abdomen that increases quickly
It’s time to see a doctor when, in addition to these symptoms, people experience:
- Clay-colored stools
- Yellowing skin or eyes
Gallstone Risk Factors
Gallstones are extremely common, affecting nearly 25 million people. Almost 1 million people are diagnosed each year and about one-fourth of those will need to be treated, typically with surgery to remove the gallbladder.
Some of the risk factors associated with gallstones are preventable, but there are plenty that aren’t. They include:
- A family history of gallstones
- Being female
- Being 40 or older
- Being Hispanic or Mexican
- Being overweight or obese
- Having a blood disorder like sickle cell anemia or leukemia
- Liver disease
- Taking medications containing estrogen
Maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce the risk of getting gallstones. If you need to lose weight, don’t do it too rapidly. That will only increase your risk. Don’t skip meals and go slowly with your weight loss. Eating more fiber-rich foods will also help.
Helping To Keep You Healthy
AltaMed is here to help you take charge of your well-being with health and wellness programs. Solutions include our Family Health and Fitness Program, STOMP; diabetes support groups and diabetes prevention; support for a heart-healthy lifestyle; dietician consultants; and more
Call (888) 499-9303 for more information or to get started.