Kidney stones are a common occurrence—but one you’ll probably never forget! About 1 in 10 Americans will develop kidney stones in their lifetime, with men more prone than women. These stones cause over a half million emergency visits per year, but most people are simply sent home to pass them on their own.
In my case, due to concerning inflammation and infection, I spent several days in the hospital receiving intravenous fluids and antibiotics, with plans to operate. Fortunately, I avoided surgery, and within 21 days, the stone broke up thanks to natural remedies I discovered (see below). As the shards passed through the delicate urinary tract, I endured more discomfort, but happily, once they exit, you are pain free!
As soon as people heard that I had a kidney stone, I commonly heard: “How can you have a kidney stone when you eat so healthy?” Frankly, I wondered the same thing, so I started researching and discovered a few things.
1. Not all kidney stones are created equal
I learned that there are 4 different kinds of stones: calcium-based, uric acid, struvite, and cysteine. If you pass a stone and retrieve it in a strainer, you can have it analyzed to find its cause.
The most common stones are calcium compounds, whereby calcium binds with molecules like oxalate or phosphate. Uric acid stones form from an excess of uric acid combined with low urine output. Struvite stones, which can grow quite large, form from persistent urinary tract infections. Cystine stones crystallize from too much cystine in the urine, a condition that may be hereditary.
2. Pain management is primary!
I’ve always heard kidney stone pain compares to childbirth, except mothers have some downtime in between contractions—and a lovely baby to cuddle at the end! With my stone, there were long stretches of unrelenting pain with no reprieve—something I would wish on nobody.
During the first few days (before my hospital visit), I found a lot more relief from over-the-counter anti-inflammatories than from prescription pain-killers. In the hospital, they immediately started me on a Dilaudid drip, a hydromorphone used to treat moderate to severe pain; this only succeeded in taking the edge off for maybe an hour at a time. A day and a half later, after I nearly had nervous breakdown from the unending pain, doctors ordered Toradol, an anti-inflammatory. Within 10 minutes of my first dosage, I never had another episode of severe pain.
From what I could ascertain, some people respond beautifully to narcotics while others get relief from anti-inflammatories. If you ever wind up with a kidney stone, be aggressive in demanding a broad approach to pain management.
For at-home treatment, consider taking long hot baths (I added Epsom salts to mine). I also got a lot of relief from heating up my flaxseed and herb pillow and placing it on the painful area.
3. The pain can show up in many places in your body.
The pain from a kidney stone does not always center around the kidney area (lower back). My first indication was an aching in the urethra; this progressed to severe groin pain. Later it moved to my right flank and later to the abdominal area. As stones move, they send pain to different parts of the body. My doctor called this “referred pain” and affirmed that kidney stone pain can show up in many places. Stay alert and take notes about what is going on in your body, and share your observations with your doctor.
4. Natural remedies can help break up stones.
The first day I had symptoms, I started taking Chanca Piedra (Spanish for “stone breaker”), a combination of herbs designed to do what the name implies. You take a dropperful in water a couple times a day. I resumed this immediately upon returning from the hospital and believe it led to the breaking up and passing of my stone.
The stone’s movement through the ureter’s narrow passages causes the most discomfort, so I was advised to combine extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice every few hours to help soften the stone’s sharp edges.
Since emergency rooms usually release patients to pass stones at home, only directing them to drink about a gallon of water a day, you can’t go wrong with researching these alternative remedies.
5. Don’t start to stress about what you can and can’t eat.
Nuts, beans, sodium, caffeine, soy, animal protein, chocolates and oxalate-rich foods (e.g. leafy greens) are all thought to contribute to the formation of kidney stones. I eat a mainly plant-based diet with lots of leafy greens, and after my stone, I began obsessing about my diet. Now I just take a more moderate approach and reduced my intake of sodium and processed foods. Worry is never good for the health!
6. Hydration is super important!
Hydration can’t be emphasized enough! At my follow-up, my urologist basically said, “Don’t worry so much about the food—just make sure you drink a lot of liquids.”
In analyzing what could have caused my stone, I recognize that stepping up hydration will benefit my health on many levels. For great ideas on how to make hydration more flavorful, check out my Huffington Post article 3 self-indulgences you need to start doing now.
I hope you never suffer kidney stones, but if you do, remember that they take time to pass—so have patience and consider all of your options. It’s a good time to step back from life exertions as much as possible and let other people step in to help care for you.
POSTSCRIPT: I’m not including specifics in this particular blog (it would make it far too long!) but when I became aware of the hospital dietary situation and what they are serving in mainstream hospitals that is supposed to be pass as food, it is no surprise to me that we are facing a true health crisis in this country.