Smart Strategies for Preventing Painful Kidney Stones

Oct 25, 2018

For the nearly one million Americans who suffer from excruciating kidney stones, Dr. Niraj Badhiwala feels your pain—literally. “I get a lot of kidney stones,” says the urologist with USMD. “My sister recently had a pretty bad episode, and she lives in Texas too.”

Like many of us living in the Lone Star State, Dr. Badhiwala and his sister have two of the risk factors that contribute to kidney stones—a family history and geographic location. “Texas makes up part of the stone belt,” Dr. Badhiwala adds. “Texas and other southern states tend to have higher rates of kidney stones.”

With plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures much of the year, it can be tough to drink enough fluids to keep the body well hydrated—and poor hydration is one of the biggest contributors to kidney stones.

“Without enough fluids to dissolve the minerals and salts in your urine, stones can form in your kidneys,” Dr. Badhiwala explains. “While the stones start small, they can grow larger and cause problems when they move into the ureter (the tube between the kidney and bladder).”

If stones become lodged in the ureter, they block urine flow and cause severe pain. Nearly everyone who has experienced the sudden, sharp, long-lasting pain associated with kidney stones describe it as agonizing. “Women often say it is more painful than childbirth,” Dr. Badhiwala notes.

Fight kidney stones with fluids.
Often small kidney stones pass on their own, although they may take as long as four to six weeks. There are some prescription medications that can help, but surgery may be required if the stones are too large, too painful, or they trigger a kidney infection. That’s why prevention is so important—and hydration is one of the most important aspects of kidney stone prevention.

“If you keep your urine diluted, minerals in the urine are less likely to crystallize and form stones,” says Dr. Badhiwala. “For people with a history of kidney stones, we recommend that they drink enough fluids to produce two liters of urine per day.”

That may sound like an awful lot, but Dr. Badhiwala says that research studies about lifestyle changes to help reduce kidney stones confirm that patients who drink enough fluids to produce two liters of urine each day do have fewer stones.

Water is the best source of fluids, but if you’re one of those people who find plain water boring, jazz it up with fresh berries, slices of citrus fruits or add low-calorie powdered flavoring like Crystal Light to your agua. Drinks that contain citrate (a derivative of citric acid) like fresh lemonade are also good because citrate reduces your chance of forming stones. Just make sure you avoid drinks with a lot of sugar—especially dark sodas.

Smart strategies to stay hydrated.
Rather than trying to guess how much you drink each day, or leave it to chance, Dr. Badhiwala has some great strategies to help.

“Every day, I fill up large bottles of water—one at home and one at work. My goal is to finish those by the end of the day so I know I’ve consumed the minimum amount of water I need,” he says. “Set the alarm on your smart phone for every two or three hours as a reminder to drink water or another fluid. There are several apps people can download that serve as a reminder to drink.”

If you want to be high-tech about it, there are several “smart water bottles” on the market.

“There’s a smart bottle that was being researched at my previous institution called Hidrate Spark,” Dr. Badhiwala says. “It tracks the amount of water you drink and glows periodically to remind you to drink throughout the day. It even syncs to your Fitbit.”

Eating water-rich fruits and vegetables also helps prevent the formation of kidney stones. “Foods like watermelons, strawberries, cucumbers, and celery are all good choices to add to your daily diet because they all have high water content,” Dr. Badhiwala adds. “Just as importantly, cut back on salt and limit the amount of animal protein you consume. They both contribute to kidney stones.”

Once at risk, always at risk.
“Like high blood pressure, kidneys stones can be chronic if you don’t actively try to prevent them,” Dr. Badhiwala warns. “For people who have one kidney stone, there is about a 50 percent chance that they will pass another one within the next five years. That’s why I try to stress prevention—especially since I know what it’s like to pass them.”

Eating right, maintaining a healthy weight, regular exercise and drinking plenty of fluids all go a long way in helping prevent future stone attacks.

If you suffer from kidney stones, Dr. Badhiwala is here to help. To schedule a consultation with him, please call 817.784.8268.