BY PAIGE FOWLERThursday, September 10, 2015
As a guy, luckily you don’t have to go through childbirth. But that doesn’t mean you’re exempt from having to painfully push an object out of a very small hole.
More than 10 percent of American men will experience kidney stones at some point in their lives, according to UCLA researchers. And if you’ve had one in the past, you’re 50 percent more likely to have another within the next 4 years.
What the Heck Are Kidney Stones Anyway?
When minerals in your urine become highly concentrated, they collect to form pebbles in your kidneys. The stones themselves aren’t painful, and they can hang out in your kidneys for months or years without causing any problems.
But when they go on the lam, that’s when the pain kicks in. As the stones travel from your kidneys, they float into your ureter, a slim tube that carries urine from your kidneys to the bladder.
That area is narrower than your kidneys, so the stones can become lodged in there, says urologist Mantu Gupta, M.D., director of the Kidney Stone Center at Mount Sinai Health System.
As a result, they irritate the lining of your ureter. If a stone blocks one of your kidneys from being able to drain urine well, then it may become swollen and cause pain in your flank—the sides of your low back below your rib cage.
And just for fun, the stones can also cause something called referred pain, where you feel aches in other areas, like your testicles or the tip of your penis, even though they aren’t actually lodged there, Dr. Gupta says. Cruel, we know.
Stop the Madness
When you experience any of those symptoms, you’ll need an ultrasound or CT scan. Depending on how your stones look, you have two options—neither of which are all that pleasant.
Large, severely painful stones tend to require more specialized treatment. Your doctor may use sound waves to break up the stones, or a scope passed through your urethra to remove them. You might even need surgery, where your doctor will take out the stones through a small incision in your back.
If your stone is less than 6 millimeters, there’s at least a 50 percent chance it’ll pass on its own, Dr. Gupta says. You’ll know when it’s ready to come out due to a sudden onset of flank pain.
Make sure to drink lots of water during this time. Extra H2O helps your kidneys expel the stone, he says. Hanging out in a hot shower can help, too, Dr. Gupta says. Letting the steamy water run on your lower back reduces the pain and spasms around your kidneys.
Your doctor may prescribe narcotics or anti-inflammatories to help you manage the pain. Alpha-blockers, which relax the smooth muscles in your ureter, can also help the stone pass less painfully and more quickly.
Then it’s showtime. The stone will leave your body while you pee, which may cause severe pain in your bladder and groin, and burning at the tip of your penis. You may also notice blood in your urine from the stone scraping the lining of your ureter or urethra on the way out.
Then, mercifully, comes sweet relief, says Dr. Gupta. The last thing you need to do is play detective.
You’ll want to fish out the kidney stones from the toilet so your doctor can take a look. There are different types made of different minerals, and prevention strategies vary for each kind.
The stones are visible to the naked eye and will look like tiny, hard, brownish
or yellowish pebbles.
Avoid This Hell in the First Place
Want to reduce your chances of having to sift through your own urine? Here are a couple tips for preventing kidney stones:
1. Drink about 60 to 80 ounces of fluid a day. We probably don’t have to tell you this, since chances are, you’re already doing it. But when you’re dehydrated, stone-causing minerals have an opportunity to collect and form little craters, says Dr. Gupta. If your pee is consistently pale and yellow, you’re getting the job done.
2. Steer clear of soda. In a Harvard study, people who drank one or more servings of regular soda a day were 23 percent more likely to develop stones than those who consumed less than one serving a week. That may be due to soda’s fructose content, which can increase how much calcium, uric acid, and oxalate you pee out, boosting your risk of stones.
Drinking coffee and orange juice stopped stone formation, possibly due to their potent antioxidants called chlorogenic acids and citric acid, respectively.