CEO Healthcare Column

CEO Mary Ellen Pratt is extremely knowledgeable about the issues facing healthcare today. Visit this page monthly to keep up with her popular healthcare column which is featured in local newspapers. 

The Stone-Cold Facts About Kidney Stones 
How you can find relief and help prevent them

Each year, more than a half million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone issues. It is estimated that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives and the prevalence in the United States is increasing. 

According to Mayo Clinic researchers, better diagnostic tools could be part of the reason for the steady rise in diagnoses. Advanced CT (computerized tomography) scans are now diagnosing kidney stones that previously would have gone undetected. In addition, other diseases on the rise such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity can increase the risk for kidney stones. 

Kidney stones are small masses of salts and minerals that form inside the kidneys and may travel down the urinary tract. A kidney stone(s) can cause extreme pain through irritation or blockage of the urinary tract. Symptoms of kidney stones could be one or more of the following:
  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back
  • Vague pain or stomach ache that doesn't go away
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
If you have these symptoms, see a doctor as soon as possible. Once you have been diagnosed with a kidney stone your doctor will determine the safest method of treatment. The health of your kidneys will be evaluated by blood and urine tests. In addition, your overall health and the size and location of the stone will be considered. 

You may be asked to drink extra fluids in an attempt to naturally flush a stone out through urination. In this case (and if possible) strain your urine and to try to save a piece of the stone that passed. Your doctor may want to have it tested. Sometimes knowing the chemical composition of a kidney stone can help determine the cause of the stone and if certain changes—perhaps to diet—can help prevent another from forming. 

In most cases, kidney stones pass without causing damage—but usually not without causing a lot of pain. Pain relievers may be the only treatment recommended for small stones. In more complicated cases—such as stones that cause lasting symptoms and/or infections, extremely large stones and those that block the flow of urine, it may be best to remove the stone. The two most common ways to remove kidney stones are lithotripsy and ureteroscopy.

Ureteroscopy involves the insertion of an endoscope through the ureter to retrieve or obliterate the stone. Lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to blast the stones into fragments that are then more easily passed through urine. This technology is beneficial because it treats kidney stones without an incision. As a result, hospital stays and recovery time are reduced. 

Unfortunately, those who have developed one stone are at approximately a 50% greater risk for developing another within five to seven years. So, what can you do to decrease your risk of kidney stones? Drinking enough fluid will help reduce the concentration of waste products in your urine. Your urine should appear a very light yellow to clear if you are well hydrated. Darker urine is usually more concentrated. Most of the fluid you drink should be water. Secondly, eat more fruits and vegetables, which make the urine less acidic. Stones often have a harder time forming in a less acidic environment. Third, reduce excess salt in your diet. A high-sodium diet can trigger kidney stones because it increases calcium in your urine. Lastly, manage your weight safely. Being overweight can put stress on the kidneys.  

Dr. Clay Boyd, Urologist at St. James Urology Clinic—a department of St. James Parish Hospital, specializes in the treatment of kidney stones and other general urology services. Dr. Boyd recently began offering lithotripsy as a treatment option to help those suffering with kidney stones. To schedule an appointment, call 225.258.2070.