The pain of passing a kidney stone has been likened to childbirth. We’re not sure everyone would agree with that, but it’s fair to say that this is not a pleasant experience and it’s something you wouldn’t wish on another human being.
Kidney stones are much more common in seniors and the elderly population is also at a higher risk for developing complications. In this guide, we’ll look at some of the causes of kidney stones in the elderly and discuss potential solutions and preventative measures.
What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are formed when minerals in your urine become concentrated. These minerals, including calcium, stick together and form clumps. They can form tiny and almost imperceptible grains, which are passed without your knowledge, but they can also form much bigger stones.
A kidney stone is composed of one of the following minerals:
- Calcium Stones: The most common types consist of a substance known as calcium oxalate. The liver produces this substance every day and it is also found in food, including many different fruits and vegetables. Although rare, calcium phosphate can form and is common in certain metabolic disorders and with some medications.
- Uric Acid Stones: Genetic factors can play a role in the creation of these stones, but they are more commonly found in people who consume a high-protein diet or lose a lot of fluid from a severe bout of diarrhea.
- Struvite Stones: Produced by bacteria, these stones form following a urinary tract infection (UTI).
- Cystine Stones: A rare stone often found in people with a genetic disorder known as cystinuria, whereby the kidneys expel a high concentration of an amino acid known as cystine.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
There is no single cause for kidney stones. They can form through several dietary and genetic factors, and when they form once, there is a high chance they will appear again within 7 years. Some of the risk factors associated with the formation of kidney stones include:
The minerals that form kidney stones can be diluted by consuming more fluids. In patients who don’t drink enough, the concentration remains high and the risk of these stones developing increases substantially.
The more you drink, the less likely they are to appear, especially if you have had stones in the past. Always look to consume at least half a gallon of water a day. Increase your consumption if you are sweating a lot or producing an excessive amount of dark urine.
Personal and Family History
Individuals who have had stones in the past are more likely to develop them again. Genetics also plays a role, and the risk increases if you have family members who have suffered from kidney stones.
People who score 30 or more on the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale are twice as likely to get kidney stones. At the same time, however, some weight loss surgeries actually increase the risk of stones and could be counterproductive.
Lose weight slowly by eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, and lean meats, and incorporate plenty of exercise.
If you don’t have a family or personal history of kidney stones, you shouldn’t worry too much about your diet. Most oxalate-rich foods are very good for you, including spinach and rhubarb. Abstaining could mean missing out on essential nutrients and a host of benefits.
Spinach, for instance, is a great source of vitamin K and A, while rhubarb is a good source of sennosides, offering natural relief from constipation.
Salt and Animal Protein
While abstaining from fruits and vegetables is not a good idea, keeping salt and animal protein to a minimum surely is. Animal protein can increase the levels of uric acid, while a high-sodium diet is a major risk factor for many different stones.
Reduce the amount of table salt you add to your food and stay clear of processed food and fast food where possible. Everything is okay in moderation, but if you’re eating processed meals and salty snacks every day, your sodium levels will increase substantially.
What are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
If you present with any of the following symptoms, you may have kidney stones and should consult with your doctor for tests and further advice:
- Pain When Urinating: The initial pain of kidney stones may resemble a UTI and occurs when the stone passes between the bladder and urethra. It typically presents as a sharp or burning sensation.
- Back or Abdominal Pain: A pain in the back or abdomen that has been compared to childbirth and results in an estimated 1 million visits to the ER. It occurs when the stone moves into the urethra and causes a blockage, creating a buildup of pressure in the kidneys.
- An Urgent Need to Urinate: Multiple trips to the bathroom resulting in short and uncomfortable urination, often mimicking a UTI.
- Cloudy, Smelly Urine: Smelly and cloudy urine could indicate an infection resulting from a kidney stone.
- Nausea and Vomiting: A kidney stone can trigger an upset stomach and cause nausea and even vomiting.
- Fever: In the presence of a stone, a fever could indicate infection and warrants a trip to the ER as soon as possible.
- Blood in the Urine: Pink, brown, or red urine implies there is blood in the urine and points to an infection or a more serious condition.
How are Kidney Stones Diagnosed and Treated?
Following an evaluation of your symptoms, your doctor may perform a blood or urine test, looking at the concentration of stone-forming minerals. If stones are passed, these will be analyzed to determine their origin and to remedy the issue.
Most kidney stones can be passed by drinking a lot of water and taking a painkiller. It makes for a painful and uncomfortable experience, but it ensures the problem is dealt with quickly and without issue. Your doctor can also prescribe medication to help relax the muscles and make the stone easier to pass.
For larger stones, a machine known as an extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) can help to break them down using sound waves. Surgical intervention is prescribed as a last resort, either by going through the back or through the urethra.