Yes, both men and women pass kidney stones, but to get an idea of what you may be in for, picture this sequence of events faced by a couple at Riverton Hospital in Riverton, Utah, who experienced labor together…literally.
A nurse met the couple prior to the expectant mother going into labor, and mom and dad were happy, excited, and joking around. Ten minutes later, mom’s contractions were getting stronger and dad was pacing around the room complaining about a sharp pain in his back. Moments later, he began throwing up. With much persuasion, the mother’s nurse persuaded the dad to go to the ER to be evaluated.
The dad started in a wheelchair, but half way down the hall, he bolted from the chair for the restroom and threw up again. After several minutes, dad emerged from the bathroom in terrible pain and started bouncing from wall to wall, ultimately ending up curled in a ball on the floor, writhing in pain.
All in all, it took the dad 20 minutes to make it to the ER, where he was diagnosed with a kidney stone.
What are kidney stones? Kidney stones are formed by salts and minerals that stick together and block the flow of urine from the kidneys. At times, they form due to a change in normal consumption of water, salts and minerals found in urine and can range from the size of a sugar crystal to a ping-pong ball. Yes, the size of a ping-pong ball!
Kidney stones are usually accompanied by severe pain, but also can pass through the body unnoticed.
What are the symptoms?
- Severe pain in the back, belly, or groin
- Frequent or painful urination
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
Just as the dad at Riverton Hospital found out, kidney stones are rarely diagnosed before they cause severe pain, which because of the severity, often leads to an emergency room visit. In the ER, a variety of tests will be performed, which may include a CT scan, X-ray, ultrasound, or urinalysis.
How are they treated?
The most common treatment for kidney stones is known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, which uses high-energy shock waves to break stones into little pieces. These smaller pieces are then able to move through the urinary tract more easily. Prescription medications, known as alpha-blockers, can also help a patient pass a stone. Alpha-blockers relax the walls of the ureter, which widens the passages so a stone can fit through more easily.
And for the million-dollar question…how are kidney stones prevented?
- Drink LOTS of water.
- Eat fewer oxalate-rich foods (which are typically found in potato chips, French fries, nuts, spinach, rhubarb, and beets)
- Choose a diet low in salt and animal protein.
- Eat calcium-rich foods.
And in case you’re wondering, the dad who passed the stone did make it back in time for the birth of his child, a boy, with 20 minutes to spare!