Thirsty? Be sure to say ‘yes’ to that tall glass of water. It may save you from searing pain by the end of the summer.
That’s because summer is peak season for kidney stones, hard little formations that develop in the kidneys when urinary minerals and salts crystallize and bind together. Often, stones aren’t even detectable – unless they reach a certain size and then move into the ureter (the tube between the kidney and the bladder). If this happens, a stone can block urine from passage and force it back into the kidney. And ouch, then you know.
In general, one in 10 people experience kidney stones at some point in their lives. But in the hot summer months, incidents of stones climb.
Stone-Cold Facts: The Heat Isn’t the Only Reason
The causes of summertime kidney stones, however, begin to occur months before the pool opens.
This is because the body might produce more calcium in urine during the winter months, research shows, and most kidney stones – nearly 80%, according to the Cleveland Clinic – are calcium-based. A high balance of calcium in urine therefore increases the likelihood of stones.
Combine this risk with people’s tendency to be less active in the winter and stones are more likely to develop, because physical activity reduces the chances of urinary materials binding.
Then summer arrives, and heat-related factors step in to contribute to stone formation. Key among these factors: dehydration. When the body lacks fluid, urine becomes more concentrated, so there is a higher saturation of minerals and salts.
Kidney stone pain occurs when the stone starts moving. The ureter is only about an eighth of an inch wide, so a little stone can cause severe pain.
Tips for Skipping Stones in the Summertime
The easiest step to preventing stones from developing is drinking lots of non-sugary fluids, which will help carry stone-contributing minerals out of the body. We suggest no less than nine glasses a day for women, and 13 for men. If sweating, up those numbers.
Here are a few other precautionary steps:
- Shake off the salt. Sodium increases the amount of calcium in urine. Think twice before eating high-sodium processed foods, fast foods, and salty snacks.
- Cut down on animal portions. Too much red meat, poultry, eggs, and seafood can cause stone-friendly uric acid levels to climb.
- But do get some calcium. It sounds counterintuitive, but if there is too little calcium in the diet, certain acid levels will rise and the salts from these acids (oxalates) will contribute to stone formation.
- Limit certain foods. Some foods, including chocolate, beets, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and many nuts, carry high levels of oxalates. Phosphates, too, are stone culprits (think colas). Regulate these foods and pair them with water.
How to Know if Stones are Within
The most common sign of a kidney stone is pain from the back, sides, groin, and/or testicles (for men). The pain can be acute enough to cause nausea and vomiting, and there may be blood in the urine. Someone experiencing these symptoms should see a urologist.
The good news is that small kidney stones may be able to pass through the body naturally within days or weeks of formation, with the help of lots of water. A doctor will be able to provide guidance.
However, if a stone causes complications, such as an infection or blockage, it (or they) will have to be removed. The Urology Group offers several outpatient options for stone removal, depending on the size, type, and location, from breaking them down with a laser to surgical removal.