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Each year, more than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems. It is thought that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives.

The number of people in the United States with kidney stones has been increasing over the past 30 years. In the late 1970s, less than 4% of the population developed kidney stones; by the early 1990s, it was up to more than 5%. The rates continue to increase.

The peak age for kidney stones is between 20 and 50 year olds. White Americans develop kidney stones more often than African Americans; men have them more than women. Other diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, chronic diarrhea, or kidney cysts may increase the risk of stones. Diabetes increases the risk of developing kidney stones, especially in younger women. Only
about 25% of kidney stones occur in people with a family history of stones. Doctors say they’re seeing increasing numbers of children with kidney stones.

Kidney stones are also more common after bariatric (weight loss) surgery. The stones are made of oxalate, which is normally absorbed by the GI tract. However, when the digestive tract is altered by the surgery, less oxalate is absorbed and more oxalate creates kidney stones.

An Overview of Kidney Stones from The National Kidney Foundation

kidney stones

Signs and Symptoms

Black man holding his hands on lower back


Some kidney stones are as small as a grain of sand; others are as large as a pebble. A few are as big as a golf ball! As a general rule, the larger the stone, the more noticeable are the symptoms. The symptoms could be one or more of the following:

  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back
  • Belly (abdominal) pain that doesn’t go away
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy


The treatment for kidney stones is similar in children and adults. Doctors try to let the stone pass without surgery, so you may be asked to drink a lot of water. But if the stone is too large, blocks urine flow, or if there is a sign of infection, it is removed with surgery. Ask your doctor to evaluate which, if any, treatment might be right for you.

Surgery alternative – Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL)

Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL) is a noninvasive procedure that uses high-energy shock waves to blast the stones into small fragments that can then be more easily passed in the urine. In ureteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the ureter (the tube going from the kidney to the bladder) to retrieve or obliterate the stone.

For large or complicated stones – percutaneous nephrolithotomy or nephrolithotripsy

Both these procedures involve entering the kidney through a small incision in the back. Once the surgeon gets to the kidney, a nephroscope (a miniature fiberoptic camera) and other small instruments are threaded in through the hole. lf the stone is removed through the tube, it is called nephrolithotomy. lf the stone is broken up and then removed, it is called nephrolithotripsy. The surgeon can see the stone, use high frequency sound waves to break up the stone, and “vacuum” up the dust using a suction

Kidney Stone Prevention

Drinking enough fluid to keep your urine less concentrated with waste products. Darker urine is more concentrated, so your urine should appear very light yellow to clear if you are well hydrated. Most of the fluid you drink should be water. Most people should drink more than 12 glasses of water a day.

Water is better than soda, sports drinks or coffee/tea. lf you exercise or if it is hot outside, you should drink more. Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup should be limited to small quantities.

Reduce excess salt in your diet. What foods are high in salt? Everyone thinks of salty potato chips and French fries, which are best to eat in moderation. Other products that are salty: sandwich meats, canned soups, packaged meals, and even sports drinks.

Try to get to a normal weight if you are overweight. Unfortunately, high-protein weight loss diets can add to the kidney stone risk. You only need 50 grams a day of protein (found in in beef, chicken, pork, fish, milk, and eggs), but it needs to be only part of a balanced diet.

Calcium Stone Confusion

Don’t be confused about having a “calcium” stone. The most common type of kidney stone is a calcium oxalate stone. Dairy products contain calcium, but they actually help prevent stones, because calcium binds with stone-forming oxalate before it gets to the kidneys. Most kidney stones are formed when oxalate (a byproduct of certain foods like rhubarb, spinach, beets, peanuts, chocolate, and sweet potatoes) binds to calcium during urine formation in the kidneys. People with the lowest dietary calcium intake have an increased risk of kidney stones. A stone can also form from salt, the waste products of protein, and potassium. Both oxalate and calcium are increased when the body doesn’t have enough fluids and/or has too much salt.

Getting More Information

See your doctor and/or a registered dietitian about making diet changes if you have had a stone or think you could be at increased risk for getting a kidney stone. To guide you, they need to know your medical history and the food you eat. Here are some questions you might ask:

  • What food may cause a kidney stone?
  • Should l take vitamin and mineral supplements?
  • What beverages are good choices for me?

Some herbal substances are promoted as helping prevent stones. You should know that there is insufficient published medical evidence to support the use of any herb or supplement in preventing stones.

For more information on kidney stones, visit the National Kidney Foundation’s “Understanding Kidney Stones”.

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Peer Mentors are individuals who have walked the same path and may understand the kidney patient experience better than friends, family, and the health care team.