Are kidney stones a side effect of living in the South Texas heat?

Kidney stones are typically tiny accumulations of minerals in the kidneys.  Migration of these stones from the kidney into the ureter (a narrow tube connecting the kidney to the bladder) causes massive problems.  These little bits of stone are the source of one of the most excruciating pains known to man (though women merely liken it to childbirth and keep gettin’ stuff done).

Many people who develop kidney stones will have an underlying genetic propensity and some other risk factors like obesity, insulin resistance or living in the intense South Texas heat! However, kidney stones can happen to anyone.  In fact, more than 1 out of every 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives.

How can you know if you have a kidney stone? Simply put, there is nothing else like it! Once a kidney stone becomes stuck in the ureter it causes intense pain in the lower mid-back and side which radiates down towards the lower abdomen and groin.  The obstruction in the flow of urine from the kidney to the bladder causes the tight capsule surrounding the kidney to stretch. Victims experience this as a deep, visceral pain, frequently associated with nausea and vomiting. The pain will come and go in waves as the ureter contracts around the stone and then relaxes.

Usually, the pain from kidney stones is severe enough that it prompts the victim to seek medical attention from his family doctor or even from the emergency room.  If you’re lucky enough to be a member of Frontier Direct Primary Care, you can call your family doc on his personal cell phone and be quickly assessed from the discomfort of your living room floor as you roll around in pain.  Warning signs such as fever or unremitting pain will require a more elaborate assessment which may include both lab and imaging tests. Nevertheless, most people can be treated based on the classic symptoms of kidney stones and possibly and in-office urine test.

The most effective treatment for pain associated with kidney stones is non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naproxen.  Individuals with an active kidney stone should drink at least 2 liters of fluids per day. People who are vomiting and unable to drink may require intravenous fluids and medications that treat nausea. There is some evidence that tamsulosin (usually used to treat enlarged prostates) may help the ureter to relax and hasten the passage of the stone.  However, this effect is limited and the risks of low blood pressure may outweigh the benefits for many patients. Most kidney stones will pass in 1-2 weeks but can take up to 6 weeks in rare circumstances. Pain that has not improved in a few days requires direct medical attention and may prompt further evaluation by your physician.

One episode of kidney stones increases your risk of having another. The best way to prevent a recurrence is to stay hydrated. This means you should drink at least 1 liter of fluids per day.

Frontier DPC 3 Point Summary®

  • Kidney stones cause excruciating mid to low back and side pain radiating down to the lower abdomen and groin. Nausea and vomiting is common.

  • Kidney stones are most effectively treated with medications like ibuprofen or naproxen and at least 2 liters of fluids every 24 hours.

  • Most kidney stones will pass in 1-2 weeks.  Fever or unremitting pain can be signs of life threatening complications and require immediate attention from a medical professional.