It's Kidney Stone Season
Kidney stones are common in hot, sweaty months because we get relatively dehydrated without realizing it.
Here in Mississippi we have several distinct, well-known seasons. We have deer, turkey, dove and quail seasons, to name just a few. One lesser known season, though, begins in late April and continues all the way through to October. This season is affectionately known by physicians as “kidney stone season.”
Why a Kidney Stone?
Kidney stones are typically formed during these hot and sweaty months because people tend to get relatively dehydrated without realizing it. When we get dehydrated, the urine made in the kidneys gets concentrated and can lead to the formation of tiny urinary crystals. These crystals are the earliest stages of the ultimate stone that is formed.
In addition to dehydration, we in the South tend to rehydrate with the wrong beverages.... our beloved tea (sweetened or unsweetened, caffeinated or decaffeinated... it just doesn’t matter.). Unfortunately, tea has a lot of minerals called oxalates that just love to help us turn those tiny little crystals into full-fledged kidney stones.
Why Such Pain?
Despite popular belief, though, kidney stones themselves do not typically cause any pain. I always tell my patients that their kidneys are just the “factory” that produces their urine and those dreaded stones. Their bladder, on the other hand, is the “warehouse” where the urine is stored before urination. The highway that connects the factory (the kidney) and the warehouse (the bladder) is called the ureter.
And the horrible pain that we associate with kidney stones actually comes from the obstruction the stone causes as it travels down that long highway from the kidney to the bladder. To make matters worse, obstruction of the ureter is often associated with nausea and vomiting, which only compounds the problem.
What Can You Do?
Most patients describe their pain as severe and end up in the emergency room. As part of a patient’s evaluation, a CT scan is usually performed in order to determine the size of the stone, the degree of obstruction that it is causing, and how far down the ureter it has progressed. These factors help to determine whether or not the stone is likely to pass on its own. If it is, certain medications are given to help the stone pass, as well as to help the patient cope with the pain, nausea and vomiting.
Unfortunately, not all patients are able to tolerate their symptoms, and some stones are simply too large to pass. Fortunately, specialized surgeons known as urologists are trained and equipped to come to the rescue. We have miniaturized telescopes, lasers and high tech machines known as lithotripters to help break up those evil stones and allow for faster recovery. These procedures are also done as outpatient surgery, so an overnight stay in the hospital is usually not necessary.
What Can I Do?
If you or a family member have kidney stone pain this summer, call your friendly neighborhood urologist. A referral is not necessary and oftentimes same day appointments are available.