What Are the Causes of Kidney Stones for NC Residents?

What Are the Causes of Kidney Stones for NC Residents?

Kidney stones affect nearly 10% of Americans, and there are over 200,000 cases per year. North Carolina leads the nation with the highest rates of people developing kidney stones. But let’s dig deeper: what are the causes of kidney stones?

But first, what are they?

Also known as renal colic, kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. Remember, your kidneys remove waste and fluid from your blood to make urine. If you have too much of certain wastes and not enough fluid in your blood, those wastes can build up and create clumps in your kidneys. We call those clumps kidney stones.

what are the causes of kidney stones?
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A kidney stone can be as small as a grain of sand. You might even pass it without knowing. However, larger kidney stones can block your urine flow and cause extreme pain. Some people even describe the pain as worse than childbirth. So let’s zoom out even further: what are the causes of kidney stones?

What are the causes of kidney stones?

There are several types of kidney stones. Knowing the type you have helps determine the cause, and it may help you avoid them in the future.

These are the different types:

  • Calcium stones — These stones are the most common. They form from calcium, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, and chocolate are high in oxalate. However, dietary factors (high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and metabolic disorders) can also increase the concentration of calcium in your urine. Calcium stones may happen through the presence of calcium phosphate (associated with certain medications used to treat migraines or seizures).
  • Uric acid stones — These stones form in people who lose too much fluid due to chronic diarrhea or malabsorption. They can also form from high-protein diets, and in people with diabetes or metabolic conditions.
  • Struvite stones — Struvite stones form because of urinary tract infections. These stones can quickly become quite large, sometimes with little warning or very few symptoms.
  • Cystine stones Cystine stones form in people with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria. This disorder causes the kidneys to excrete too much of a specific amino acid, which then eventually builds cystine stones.

Risk factors that increase your risk of developing kidney stones:

  • Family history If someone in your family has had kidney stones, you’re more likely to develop them, too.
  • Dehydration Not drinking enough water each day can increase your risk of kidney stones. People who live in warm climates are at higher risk than others (think of the chance of dehydration).
  • Certain diets  Eating a high-protein diet may increase your risk of kidney stones. But so does a high-sodium diet. Too much salt increases the amount of calcium that your kidneys filter and can cause build-up.
  • Obesity — High body mass index (BMI) and weight gain have been linked to an increased risk of kidney stones.
  • Digestive diseases or surgery — Gastric bypass surgery, chronic diarrhea and inflammatory bowel disease can change the digestive process that affects your absorption of calcium and water. Those changes, if bad enough, can also cause build-ups in your kidneys.
  • Medical conditions — Certain medical conditions such as cystinuria, renal tubular acidosis, hyperparathyroidism, and urinary tract infections also can cause kidney stones.
  • Supplements and medications Excessive use of some supplements (vitamin C, dietary supplements, laxatives, calcium-based antacids, and some migraine and depression medications) can increase the risk of kidney stones.
Image courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels.

What are the symptoms?

Though kidney stones don’t usually cause permanent damage, they can be severely painful. You’ll usually feel it lower in your abdomen and back. And on top of that, symptoms can also include nausea. But you usually won’t feel anything until the stone moves around within your kidney or passes into your ureters.

Here are some of the most noticeable symptoms:

  • Sharp pain in the side and back (below the ribs)
  • Radiating pain in the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Foul-smelling or cloudy urine
  • Pain or burning while urinating
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Fever and chills (if you have an infection)

Seek medical attention if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Pain so severe that you can’t find a comfortable position
  • Pain, nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Blood in urine
  • Difficulty passing urine

Are Southerners at a higher risk for kidney stones?

Some people have referred to the southeastern part of the U.S. as the “Kidney Stone Belt.” North Carolina reportedly has the highest incidence of kidney stones in the nation. People who live in the South are known to be at higher risk of developing kidney stones due to the warm weather, which carries more risk of their dehydration.

A 2016 study that tracked adults and children in South Carolina showed children had double the risk of developing kidney stones, and that women had a nearly 45% risk of developing them over their lifetime.

Studies have also shown that Southerners are 50% more likely to develop kidney stones than people in other parts of the country. Other contributing risk factors include obesity, poor diet and not drinking enough water. Remember: the Southern diet includes foods that are rich in oxalates as well as sodium.

Drink water to avoid kidney stones
Image courtesy of Karolina Grabowska from Pexels.

How can you reduce your risk of kidney stones?

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day.
  • Eat fewer oxalate-rich foods.  These foods include rhubarb, beets, okra, spinach, Swiss chard, sweet potatoes, nuts, tea, chocolate, black pepper, and soy products.
  • Choose a diet low in salt and animal protein.
  • Continue eating calcium-rich foods, but use caution with calcium supplements. Calcium in food doesn’t affect your risk of kidney stones; however, you should ask your doctor before taking calcium supplements (they have been linked to increased kidney stone risk). But on the flip side, low-calcium diets can increase kidney stone formation in some people.

The good news: you no longer have to ask yourself, What are the causes of kidney stones? You have this guide for reference. But don’t forget — catching kidney stones before they become painful requires vigilance. Keep a close eye on your body, your diet and your habits.

For more wellness tips, be sure to check out our article on: How you Can Boost Your Immune System This Winter!