Summer is in full swing, and with the higher temperatures and humidity people are prone to dehydration. This can precipitate several medical conditions such as heat exhaustion and nephrolithiasis, more commonly known as kidney stones. According to William Haley MD, a nephrologist at the Mayo clinic, heat, humidity and a lack of proper hydration all lead to a higher prevalence of kidney stones during the summer months.
The kidney works to filter waste material from food, toxic substances and medications from the blood. It also is responsible for regulating important electrolytes such as potassium, maintaining fluid balance, and producing hormones that regulate red cell production, promote bone health and regulate blood pressure. The kidney filters waste and makes urine which travels down a thin tube called the ureter to the bladder. Once the bladder is full, urine exits the body through the urethra.
In some people, chemicals crystallize in the urine forming stones. These stones start out as a small as a grain of sand, but over time can enlarge and grow up to an inch. Stones found in the kidney do not usually cause pain, however, once the stone travels down the ureter it acts as a dam and causes urine to back up in the kidney. Once the stone is in the ureter it is called ureterolithiasis This can cause the kidney to enlarge and as the stone travels down the ureter toward the bladder the pressure causes pain. The stones are often larger than the ureter and move down the ureter by peristalsis. A good analogy is a golf ball trying to move through a water hose.
The symptoms of a kidney stone are severe pain in the back or side below the ribs that may radiate to the groin, pain with urination, and pink, red or brown urine. Nausea and vomiting may occur as well as the persistent need to urinate. If you begin having fever or chills, this indicates an infection may be present.
Kidney stones have no definite single cause, although several factors may increase your risk. Heredity can play a role as well as geographical location. Individuals living in southern parts of the United States have a higher incidence of kidney stones. Digestive disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease and digestive surgeries such as gastric bypass can cause changes in the digestive process that can increase your risk for forming kidney stones. Certain medications such as diuretics may also increase your risk.
Stones smaller than 5 mm usually pass through the urinary tract without invasive medical intervention. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory pain medications such as naproxen or ibuprofen. These medications help relax the ureter to allow the stone to pass more easily. Narcotic pain medication and medication for nausea may also be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms until the stone passes. Most stones will pass between 48-72 hours. Kidney stones that can’t be treated with conservative measures, either because they are too large, or the stone is causing urinary tract infections or damage to the kidney, will require more extensive treatment. A urologist should be consulted and will determine the best treatments available depending on the size and location of the stone.
To lower your risk factors for kidney stones, drink the recommended amount of water for your body weight, reduce your intake of sodium rich foods, and increase your intake of calcium rich foods. Drinking unsweetened lemonade may also decrease your risk. Because of the increased temperatures during the summer months, risk of dehydration is greater. This leads to an increased incidence of kidney stones, so be sure to increase your water intake to compensate for the heat and humidity that come with the summer. For more information go to www.mayoclinic.org.