Understanding the Different Types of Kidney Stones

Understanding the Different Types of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are collections of minerals that develop in your kidneys due to a variety of factors, including overconsumption of some types of foods and lack of hydration. Kidney stones range in size from a sand grain to a golf ball. The largest kidney stone ever removed was five inches at its widest point. 

About 10% of men and 7% of women in the United States suffer from kidney stones. But kidney stones aren’t all the same. Depending on the type of stone you have, both your treatment and prevention measures may vary. 

Alex Lesani, MD, an expert urologist, diagnoses, types, and treats kidney stones at his Las Vegas office. Of course, the best treatment for kidney stones is prevention. Here’s how knowing what type of stone you have may prevent the next one.

Calcium stones

About 80% of people who have kidney stones have calcium stones, which are composed of — you guessed it! — calcium, as well as other minerals, such as oxalate and phosphate. Calcium stones tend to be extremely hard and extremely painful to pass naturally (i.e., without medications or surgery).

Even though calcium stones are made of calcium, you don’t develop them because you have too much calcium in your diet. In fact, it’s important to eat plenty of calcium-rich foods if you want to avoid calcium stones.

Counterintuitively, eating more calcium reduces your risk for calcium stones because the calcium in food binds to the oxalates so you can eliminate the stones through urine. Without enough dietary calcium, the oxalates bind to calcium in your body and blood, and increase your risk for calcium stones.

If you want to prevent another calcium-oxalate stone — or just avoid getting one in the first place — cut down on the amount of oxalates you eat. Oxalates are present in lot of healthy foods, but if you prepare these foods the right way, you remove excess oxalate:

You should also try to pair oxalate-rich foods with calcium-rich foods — such as dairy or sardines — so that the minerals bind with each other and exit your body. Treatment may consist of taking a vitamin C supplement, which may help you dissolve your calcium-oxalate stone so you can pass it naturally.

If you have calcium-phosphate stones, you may have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or an underlying medical condition. Dr. Lesani may prescribe antibiotics for a UTI, and he may refer you to a specialist so your underlying condition gets treated.

Uric acid stones

Uric acid stones aren’t as common as calcium stones, and only affect about 10% of kidney-stone sufferers. Like calcium stones, uric acid stones tend to be hard and painful. You develop uric acid stones if you eat foods that are high in a substance called purines. 

When your body digests and processes purines, it produces uric acid. However, a high-purine diet may cause so much uric acid buildup that your body can’t process and excrete it. The excess uric acid collects as stones in your kidneys and may form painful, needle-like crystals in your big toe joint or other joints, a condition called gout.

To avoid your next uric acid stone, or to prevent one in the first place, minimize purines in your diet. To do so, follow gout-friendly dietary guidelines, such as avoiding:

Drinking more water helps prevent uric acid build-up in your kidneys and your joints, too. 

Struvite stones

Like uric acid stones, struvite stones only occur in about 10% of kidney stone sufferers. Struvite stones are made of magnesium aluminum phosphate.

Unlike calcium stones and uric acid stones, you can’t really modify your diet to prevent or treat struvite stones. They’re caused by a high pH and high ammonia levels in your urine. They may also be caused by a UTI.

Dr. Lesani may prescribe antibiotics to clear your UTI. He may also recommend urease inhibitors to help dissolve struvite stones.

Cystine stones

Cystine stones are the rarest type of kidney stones, and though they’re softer, they can also be much larger than the others. Cysteine is a type of amino acid, which is a building block of protein. 

You may develop cystine stones if you take an amino acid or cysteine supplement. You may also develop these stones if you have a condition called cystinuria.

If your kidney stone is painful or isn’t passing on its own, contact Dr. Lesani for a consultation and treatment today. Phone our helpful Las Vegas, Nevada office staff at 702-470-2579, or book online.

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