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A Conversation About Kidney Stones and Gallstones

15 November 2018

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A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms from the crystallization of substances in urine. It’s estimated that one in ten people in the U.S. will have a kidney stone at some time. Chances are, you have already experienced a kidney stone or know someone who has experienced one.

What is a kidney stone?

Kidney stones are formed by a buildup of different minerals in your body. Minerals like calcium, oxalate and phosphorus can become concentrated and form stones that can range in size. Kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a pearl. In some cases, they can be larger.

“Kidney stones either stay in your kidneys or travel through your ureters (which are the tubes that go from your kidneys to your bladder) and out of your body with your urine,” says family medicine physician Dr. Ashley Cochran.

Depending on where the kidney stone is located, you may have pain in your back, your side or your groin. “This pain is severe, sudden, and is often described as being like childbirth,” Dr. Cochran says. “It is also associated with nausea and vomiting, and you may notice blood or feel pain when you urinate.”

What causes kidney stones?

“About 70 to 75 percent of the stones are made up of calcium,” Dr. Cochran says. “The potential to form kidney stones can be genetic, as some people are born making extra calcium. Some cases can be related to diets high in sodium and animal protein.”

Preventing kidney stones with diet and exercise

The National Kidney Foundation suggests that living a healthy lifestyle can reduce your chances of forming a kidney stone. Follow some of the tips below to get started.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. This will help keep your urine less concentrated on waste products.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables. Produce can make urine less acidic.
  • Reduce excess salt in your diet.
  • Get to a normal weight if you are overweight.

Treating kidney stones

The most effective way to diagnose a kidney stone is to have a CT scan or X-ray of your abdomen. If you are diagnosed with a kidney stone, there are several ways to treat it depending on the size of the stone.

“Most stones that are less than five millimeters can be passed on their own, usually by drinking plenty of water to flush the stone out,” Dr. Cochran says. “However, the bigger the stone, the less likely it is to pass on its own and you may need to see a urologist to discuss ways to help you pass the large stone.”

A urologist may recommend treatments like using shock waves to break up the stone into smaller pieces that are easier to pass or using a small camera with a basket to retrieve the stone.

Are kidney stones and gallstones linked?

Some people who have risks for either kidney stones or gallstones may have problems with both. However, kidney stones and gallstones are two different disease processes and are not associated.

What is a gallstone?

Gallstones are formed in the gallbladder, which is a small ‘bag’ just under your liver,” Dr. Cochran says. “Your gallbladder stores digestive juices that are made by the liver and sometimes these juices become solid and form gallstones.”

What causes gallstones?

Similar to how kidney stones are formed from too much calcium, gallstones can be formed when bile contains too much cholesterol or too much bilirubin. More than 80 percent of gallstones are hardened cholesterol stones. These types of stones can be genetic or develop from environmental causes.

“If you have a family history of gallstones, you may be more likely to suffer from them,” Dr. Cochran says. “You are also at more at risk if you a female, if you are in your reproductive years, over the age of 40 or are overweight.”

Gallstones typically cause pain where the gallbladder is located, which is on the upper right side of your belly under your ribcage. The pain typically occurs 30 to 60 minutes after eating a meal but can come and go at other times as well. You may also experience nausea or vomiting with a gallstone.

Preventing and treating gallstones

Research shown that people who are obese may have higher levels of cholesterol in their bile, which can cause gallstones. A high-calorie diet with an excess of carbohydrates can also lead to gallstones.

“Gallstones can be diagnosed by doing an ultrasound of your abdomen, where the gallbladder is,” says Dr. Cochran. “If you are having a lot of painful episodes or attacks, the best treatment is to have surgery to remove the gallbladder.”

If you have a history of passing kidney stones or have trouble with gallstones, it is important that you take care of your body and have regular check-ups with your doctor. If you would like to know more about the prevention and treatment of kidney stones or gallstones, the physicians and urologists at INTEGRIS Health can help.