Tips for Avoiding the Agony of Kidney Stones
Grace Weatherby
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2024

Tips for Avoiding the Agony of Kidney Stones

If you have ever had a kidney stone, you do not need much encouragement to look for ways to avoid having another one. But for the inexperienced, it’s hard to convey the magnitude of pain that tiny—we’re talking grain of sand-sized—accumulations of minerals and salts that form in the kidney can cause. But perhaps learning that the frequency of kidney stones is on the rise (and the related potential costs) may prove motivating. Here’s what we know:

- The annual incidence of kidney stone disease rose 16% from 1997 to 2012

- In the U.S., around 11% of men and 6% of women have had at least one kidney stone

- About 3% of people who go to the emergency room with kidney stones need to be admitted due to pain and dehydration   

- People admitted for kidney stone-related issues via the emergency department face an average cost of nearly $30,000, depending on the type of procedure and the subsequent care

While there is no guaranteed way to prevent stones from forming (heredity does play a role), you can reduce your risk by modifying your diet. Here’s where to start:

Stay hydrated. Stone formation has been directly associated with a lack of fluid intake and is by far one of the most common causes of kidney stone formation. Low fluid intake results in urine with of minerals (specifically calcium, oxalate, and other salts) that contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Drinking fluids creates a more diluted urine, which makes it less likely these minerals will clump together to form stones.

Aim for a fluid intake of 8 to 12 cups of water a day, more if you are sweating. If possible, add a splash of lemon or lime to your water. Both juices contain citrate, which binds to calcium to help block stone formation.

Limit sodium intake. A high-sodium diet increases the amount of calcium in your urine and may boost your risk of developing stones. Aim to limit intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams a day—roughly a tablespoon. When shopping, opt for low-sodium deli meats and prepared food options. For more tips on going low sodium, click here.

Eat an adequate amount of calcium-rich foods.  While this may sound counterintuitive given some kidney stones are partially composed of calcium, the reality is calcium from food does not increase stones. However, some studies have shown that calcium supplements may increase stone formation. If you have a history of forming calcium oxalate stones, ask your doctor/dietitian for help determining the appropriate daily calcium intake levels for you.

Limit the amount of meat in your diet. Meats and other animal protein, like eggs and fish, contain purines that can contribute to stone formation. Limit animal protein intake to 8 ounces a day.

Eat your fruits and veggies. Because many fruits and vegetables contain citrate, which can inhibit the formation of calcium-based stones, you want to make sure they are a key part of your daily diet.

A bonus of an anti-kidney stone diet is that it also works to improve your overall health and is easy to incorporate into your daily routine.

There are different types of kidney stones and management depends on your risk factors. The best assessment for why you are making kidney stones—and determining how best to prevent them—is a 24-hour urine collection.

Passing a kidney stone can be excruciatingly painful and long—some take weeks to pass. In some cases, kidney stones can lead to complications, like kidney infections, urinary tract infections, and sepsis.

Your best bet for avoiding that misery and potential complications is to start doing what you can today to prevent stones tomorrow.


Ruth Rudnick, RN,BSN,CNN is the director of renal services at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.


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