As the California drought is extending into its fourth year, it is safe to assume that this coming summer will be a long and hot one. There is no better time than now to start talking about kidney stones, how and why they are formed, signs and symptoms, and finally, treatment options.
The fall season is dubbed by urologists as “stone season” since we see most of the kidney stone patients during this time. To understand the reason behind this surge, one needs to know how the stone is formed. First, tiny little crystals are formed in a supersaturated urine which is the result of dehydration. With time, these crystals aggregate to form a stone nidus, which then snowballs into a stone. The entire process can take a few weeks, but more typically a few months. People tend to be more active and outdoors in the summer and without proper hydration ….. voilà, we have our “stone season” in the fall.
The most common symptom of a kidney stone is the unmistakable back/flank pain. It was described by many as one of the worst pain one can have. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, blood in the urine or symptoms that mimic urinary tract infection such as constant urge to urinate or burning with urination.
Kidney Stone Treatment
The treatment of a kidney stone depends on its size and location. Stones that are smaller than 4-5 mm have an excellent chance to pass spontaneously. Proper pain management, adequate hydration and physical activities are the keys for this expectant therapy to work. In some cases, medications called alfa blockers, such as Tamsulosin, can be given to certain patients to aid the stone passage. If the stone is too big to pass on its own, then it can be treated with one of following treatment options: Extracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy (ESWL), ureterscopy with laser lithotripsy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy.
The most commonly used treatment is ESWL. This non-invasive, outpatient procedure is done under either heavy sedation or general anesthesia. It usually takes no more than 40-45 minutes to do. Most of the patients can return to work 1-2 days post procedure.
To improve the care for kidney stone patients in our area, Pacific Urology and John Muir Health have joined forces to form a kidney stone center. The goal of this center is to have kidney stone patients seen the same day kidney stone symptoms are present and have the stone treated within a day or two if the stone deems to be impassable.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Of course, the best treatment is to have no treatment at all. The best way to avoid a kidney stone is to practice HYDRATION. How do you know you are adequately hydrated? Look at the color of your urine. It should be light yellow or clear at all times.
Have fun this summer! But remember to keep a bottle of water around, unless you want to see me in an emergency room this fall.
Dr. Zheng is a board certified urologist with Pacific Urology and sees patients at offices in Concord and Walnut Creek. Dr. Zheng specializes in the medical management and surgical treatment of kidney stones, he also practices general urology.
Looking for relief from kidney stones? Make an appointment with us today.