Would you know the symptoms if they happened to you? (Photo: Dr. Dundas/Science Photo Library/Corbis)
Getting a kidney stone is no walk in the park. And the rumors floating around about what to expect when the stone actually passes are not for the faint of heart.
But, that’s just what some of them are — rumors.
So how can you be certain the pain you’re experiencing is legitimately a kidney stone? What’s the difference between a kidney stone versus appendicitis versus a urinary tract infection — or even a good old-fashioned stomachache?
That’s why it’s important to know what you’re dealing with, says Mantu Gupta, MD, director of The Kidney Stone Center at Mount Sinai Hospital, who comes across a lot of misconceptions when it comes to signs, symptoms, feel, and care of kidney stones.
According to a recent study in European Urology, kidney stones affect about one in 11 people in the United States, so it’s becoming increasingly important to understand the signs and causes of kidney stones.
Hallmark signs vary, but can include painful urination, nausea or vomiting, persistent need to urinate, fevers and chills, and pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity.
Think you know your stuff when it comes to preventing and spotting kidney stone symptoms? Here are nine myths to be aware of:
Myth No. 1: Drinking cranberry juice will help flush out the kidney stone.
Fact: Cranberry juice might actually make your kidney stones worse.
“It is good for preventing urinary tract infections, because it does solidify the urine and prevent infections, but it has the opposite effect with kidney stones,” Gupta tells Yahoo Health. “Cranberry is high in oxalate [which can cause kidney stones], so we recommend not to drink cranberry juice or take supplements.”
Myth No. 2: Getting a kidney stone feels like a stomachache.
Fact: Getting a kidney stone actually feels similar to a contraction — and some patients say the pain can be more severe than labor, says Gupta.
The pain is typically colicky, coming in waves for intervals at a time. It can range from a sharp, stabbing sensation, to the sort of pain that comes from menstrual cramps, says Gupta.
Myth No. 3: You feel the pain in your lower back, where your kidneys are located.
Fact: The pain actually originates a little lower in the abdomen or gut, after the kidney stone passes into the ureter.
“The reason it hurts is that it’s like a cork going down your ureter, which is shaped as a funnel and gets skinnier as you get to the bladder,” says Philip Buffington, MD, chief medical officer of The Urology Group in Cincinnati, Ohio. The kidney stones then start to block the flow of urine and, if enough time passes, can cause the kidney to descend, causing terrible pain and nausea.
Myth No. 4: Drinking milk, which has calcium, will cause kidney stones.
Fact: Calcium is not the enemy.
“Many people are causing kidney stones because they have a lack of calcium in their diet,” says Gupta. He suggests having a glass of milk or yogurt with your meal and consuming foods with magnesium, which will help bind the oxalate and help prevent kidney stones.
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Myth No. 5: You’ll pass multiple kidney stones.
Fact: Kidney stones can be multiple OR single stones.
Most of the time it’s just one stone, especially if it’s your first time experiencing one, Buffington tells Yahoo Health. But once you’ve passed a kidney stone, you’re 90 percent more likely to pass another stone within 4 years. He suggests getting an ultrasound from your physician to help detect what you’re dealing with.
Myth No. 6: It only takes a few hours for a kidney stone to pass.
Fact: Most people pass their stone within two to three days.
“If they’re relatively comfortable, a patient can wait four to six weeks for it to pass through — but some patients come back years later,” says Buffington. “They’ve stopped having pain, but a year later we see them and their kidney is smaller and starting to lose function.” Just another good reason to consult a physician, even if time and pain passes.
Myth No. 7: Drinking soda can cause kidney stones.
Fact: Drinking fluids with phosphoric acid and high sodium levels can cause kidney stones.
It’s not cola itself that causes kidney stones, but an ingredient in cola called phosphoric acid that can lead to an increased risk of kidney stone formation, says Gupta. Cola is also a diuretic, which can make your urine more concentrated with salt and promote kidney stones.
Myth No. 8: High-oxalate foods can cause kidney stones.
Fact: While an excessive amount of consumption of oxalate foods, paired with factors like dehydration, high sodium levels, and high calcium levels in the urine, can cause kidney stones, most kidney stones are linked to genetics.
And people who follow a diet that includes high oxalate foods can inhibit production of kidney stones by drinking water, reducing their salt intake, adding citrus to their diet, and reducing consumption of animal products.
Myth No. 9: Kidney stones look like small, grey pebbles.
Fact: Kidney stones can come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and textures.
Kidney stone patients might pass just one grain-sized stone, multiple grain-sized stones, smooth, pearl-shaped stones, jagged yellow stones, or even brown, golf-ball-sized stones. Gupta recommends capturing the stone and bringing it to your physician for analysis. The composition of the stone can help determine what caused the stone in the first place to prevent future stones from forming.
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