Kidney Stones: The Myths and the Facts

“Kidney stones” is one of those popular neighborhood names you’ve heard so much about, yet know so little of. You probably can’t really tell the facts from the old wives’ tales. Kidney stones are not myths in themselves, they are definitely real. However, like most health concerns, they tend to have some myths and superstitions surrounding them.

First, let’s state the general facts you need to know.

Kidney stones are also called renal calculi or nephrolithiasis. This is important if you love to geek out on big scientific names and grammar. Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside the kidney. These stones are often formed when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together.

A kidney stone usually will not cause symptoms until it moves around within the kidney or passes into the ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys and the bladder). If it becomes lodged in the ureter, it may block the flow of urine and cause the kidney to swell and the ureter to spasm, which can be very dangerous. At this point people experience

  • Severe, sharp pain in the side and back, below the ribs.
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin.
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity.
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating.

What causes kidney stones?

Kidney stones often have no definite, single cause, although several factors like family history, dehydration, certain diets, obesity, digestive diseases, excessive use of laxatives, certain supplements and medication etc. may increase the risk.

Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances – such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid – than the fluid in the urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may lack substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you experience

  • Pain so severe, you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position.
  • Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
  • Pain accompanied by fever and chills.
  • Blood in urine.
  • Difficulty passing urine.

Of course, make an appointment with your doctor if any other sign or symptom worries you.

Busting the popular myths

With many misbeliefs associated with kidney stones, you might be left confused on what to follow and what not to. Listed below are some common myths with some actual facts.

Myth 1: Patients with kidney stones cannot eat tomatoes.

Fact: Eating tomatoes in normal quantities have no role in causing kidney stones.

Myth 2: Milk causes kidney stones.

Fact: Milk is a source of calcium and it has been proven that milk does not affect the formation of kidney stones. However, excess protein-rich foods like meat, eggs and fish are avoided because they increase the chances of stone formation.

Myth 3: Drinking beer helps to control the formation of kidney stones.

Fact: Beer causes loss of large amounts of vital body fluids, which ultimately lead to kidney stones.

Myth 4: It only takes a few hours to pass a kidney stone.

Fact: It can sometimes take days to pass a stone.

Myth 5: In Nigeria, you can only do open surgery to remove a stone.

Fact: We now have other modern options such as laser or Extra-corporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) – in which a laser or shock wave is used to break the stones.

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