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The ins and outs of kidney stones

Published:Saturday | December 17, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Dr Douglas Street, Contributor

Kidney stones are not very common, but they can cause us to stand up and pay attention when they occur.

They may be found in the kidney itself, the ureter (the channel from the kidney to the bladder), or in the bladder. Eighty per cent of kidney stones are found in men, usually in the 30 to 40 age group, and they often recur. They also tend to run in families.

The most common symptom of a kidney stone is severe pain, which moves from the middle of the chest to the spine to the lower abdomen. It may also cause nausea/vomiting, blood in the urine, and painful urination.

Low fluid intake and high dietary intake of sodium, animal protein, refined sugars, apple juice, grapefruit juice, and cola drinks increases the risk of kidney stone. The most common component of kidney stones is calcium.

If the calcium level in the blood is high for whatever reason, kidney stones are likely to form. Taking calcium supplements increases the risk of kidney stones, but increasing calcium intake from natural sources does not. Strangely enough, a low-calcium diet also increases the risk of stone formation. Increased dietary intake of potassium and magnesium reduces the risk.

Diagnosing kidney stones may involve looking at the history and testing the urine for blood, special X-rays, ultrasound, and a CT scan.

Most kidney stones pass out on their own, but once they reach to a certain size, it becomes difficult for them to pass through the narrow ureter. They may be removed in a number of ways. Surgery may need to be done for large ones. Others may be fetched with certain instruments or they may be shattered using shock waves. In certain situations, medications may be used to flush them out. Of course, pain relievers are also important.

To reduce the possibility of a recurrence, one should increase intake of citrate-rich fluids (example lemonade and orange juice); control intake of calcium to 1 to 1.2g (preferably from natural sources); limit daily intake of meat protein to 170-230g; get Vitamin C from a natural source; keep sodium intake to 2,300mg daily; and limit oxalate-rich foods (chocolate, spinach, strawberries, nuts, brewed tea, and wheat germ).

Dr Douglas Street is a general practitioner and has private practices at Trinity Medical Centre, Trinity Mall; 3 Barnett Street, Montego Bay; and Omega Medical Centre, Plaza de Negril, Negril. Send feedback to drdougstreet@yahoo.com.