Ask Dr. Dylan: What you need to know about Kidney Stones

Ask Dr. Dylan: What are kidney stones?

Dr. Dylan explains what kidney stones are and what the risk factors are to creating kidney stones.

March is National Kidney Month. Dr. Dylan Wyatt, an emergency medicine physician at St. Luke’s, is helping us to get to know the organ a little better and highlighting a not-so-fun condition: Kidney Stones.

What are kidney stones? 

Dr. Dylan: Kidney stones are hard deposits of clumped up salts and minerals that form in the kidney. They’re not necessarily dangerous while they’re there, but if a piece breaks off or the whole stone mobilizes it will head down our ureter (the tube the connects the kidney to the bladder), causing pain and potentially bleeding along the way.

What are the risk factors for developing kidney stones? 

Dr. Dylan: Put simply: our kidneys help filter our blood. The urine takes everything that is filtered out of the body, so if there is too much of a substance that needs to be filtered out it can collect in the kidneys, forming stones.

Unsurprisingly, diet plays a large role in the formation of kidney stones. Diets low in calcium, phosphorus, and potassium have a decreased risk for calcium stones. Diets with too much vitamin C, sodium, and meat intake increase the risk. High animal protein and low fruit and vegetable intake increases the risk for uric acid stones.

A Mediterranean diet is a good option to reduce the risk. Dehydration also concentrates the urine, increasing the risk for all stones.

What are the different types? 

Dr. Dylan: There are two ways the think of “types” of kidney stones: composition and size.

  • Stones can be composed of many types of minerals- such as calcium (80%), uric acid (8%), cysteine (2%), and struvite (1%).
  • For size, larger stones in my experience are less painful but less likely to pass, whereas smaller stones hurt more but usually make their way out.

How common are kidney stones? 

Dr. Dylan: Quite common. Roughly 20% of men and 10% of women will have a kidney stone by the time they turn 70.

How do you treat kidney stones?

Dr. Dylan: For most stones, once we’ve identified that you have one the treatment is to let it pass. This is not a comfortable process and often takes several days. We give some medications to help with the pain and process.

Sometimes stones are too big, and we have to remove those surgically.