How to pass kidney stones less painfully?
Whether using home remedies, prescription medication or surgical options, when it comes to kidney stones it’s not so much about making it painless as it is about making it less painful. Some kidney stones, especially small ones, are so comparatively easy to pass they are not even deserving of a Seinfeld reference. Others, however, are so excruciatingly painful that they are often compared to giving birth to a child; an unusually large child. We’re talking about feeling like you have the Rock of Gibraltar lodged in your kidney, as was recently the case of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. It is a scary scenario, especially when doctors prefer to let you pass the stone on your own, and you might be thankful that they do when taking into account what surgery involves, as we’ll see later. For the moment let’s focus on the ways to facilitate the passing of a kidney stone.
Kidney stones obstruct the flow of urine, and this backup is what causes most of the pain. What you need to do is to drink plenty of water (up to 3 liters a day) in order to give your urinary system that extra boost to help it push the stone out. Water is mostly recommended to be able to produce clear or nearly clean urine, but a half a cup of pure lemon juice may be added to your liquid intake since citric acid is believed to help dissolve calcium-based stones, which makes them easier to pass. Conversely, other juices like cranberry, apple and grapefruit juice may actually increase your chances of developing new stones instead of helping you get rid of the ones you already have. The same goes for soft drinks, which may have phosphoric acids that lower citrate levels in the urine. Decaffeinated coffee and tea are considered safe, but not better than water. As far as food is concerned, consumption of salt and meat proteins should be reduced to a bare minimum, while ingestion of fiber, such as whole grains and fresh vegetables, should be augmented.
Now, the fact that you can help small stones (less than 3 mm) pass through with the aid of a handful of home remedies, that doesn’t mean it’s not going to hurt. Though still not surgery-worthy, your doctor can assist you in such cases by prescribing ibuprofen, acetaminophen, naproxen, or other pain reliever. Additionally, your physician may administer drugs known as alpha blockers, which loosen the muscles in the ureter, allowing the stone to pass more easily and without so much pain. It’s important to remember that as agonizing as passing even a small stone can be, once it’s done there is usually no permanent damage. On the other hand, though, developing a kidney stone once increases your risk of getting another one five to ten years later. But this is where prevention comes in; prevention is still the best method to try and avoid the pain of a kidney stone.
Lifestyle changes can lower the risk of forming kidney stones. Avoiding a diet that’s high in protein, sodium and sugar, hydrating yourself properly, and losing weight are three behavioral changes that address three of the most common kidney stone risk factors. There is not much you can do about other risk factors such as being a 40 year-old or older male, or having a family history of kidney stones –if Papa had a rollin’ stone, you may get one too-, but being aware of them can go a long way in having yourself screened, in particular when you consider that some kidney stones present no symptoms at all. Finally, if you are a spiritual person, you may meditate in order to reduce stress, which has also been linked to the development of kidney stones; or pray that your stone is smaller than 5 mm, because that’s when surgery becomes an alternative.
The less invasive procedure is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, or SWL. This treatment employs sound waves to break down the stone into smaller pieces that can be flushed out in the urine. SWL lasts between 45 minutes and one hour, and can be mildly painful, so sedation or light anesthesia may be given to the patient. Side effects include blood in the urine, bruising on the back or abdomen, bleeding around the kidney and other nearby organs, and discomfort as the fragments pass through the urinary tract. If the size and location of the stone don’t allow for successful SWL, the surgeon may turn to percutaneous nephrolithotomy, a procedure in which large stones are removed with Lilliputian instruments inserted through an incision in the back. The patient is given general anesthesia and may have to remain in the hospital for a couple of days while recovering. In an ureteroscopy a long, thin tube with a built in camera goes on a fantastic voyage through your urethra to locate the stone, which is then destroyed with special tools or even with a laser. A related surgery which takes place far from the kidneys is called a parathyroid gland surgery. In some instances, these glands may lead to higher levels of calcium, and may have to be operated on to arrest the formation of kidney stones.
While none of the above sounds like a picnic, sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, especially when you think about complications like loss of kidney function and even deadly infections. So if you notice common symptoms (severe pain in the side and back and below the ribs; pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin; pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity; pain when urinating; pink, red or brown urine; cloudy or foul-smelling urine; nausea and throwing up; persistent urge to urinate; urinating more frequently than usual ; fever and chills; pain so severe that you can't sit still or find a comfortable position; bloody urine) or recognize the risk factors mentioned above, talk to your doctor about the possibility of kidney stones.