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The Answer Doc with Dr. Christopher Munger, M.D.

Identifying and treating kidney stones

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Posted: June 15, 2007 5:44 p.m.
Updated: June 30, 2007 5:00 a.m.
    I woke with a familiar feeling. I had severe cramping on my right flank. I couldn’t get into a comfortable position.  The pain came in waves and hurt so bad that at times I felt nauseated.  There was no doubt.  I had another kidney stone.
    Kidney stones are a painful problem that can affect up to 5 percent of the population.  Men are four times more likely than women to suffer from this ailment. Some may be fortunate enough to only experience kidney stones once.  However, of those that have kidney stones, approximately 35 percent will face recurrent bouts with this painful problem.

 So what are kidney stones, and why do they occur?

    Kidney stones are just that, stones.  They form in the collecting system of the kidneys.  They can range in size from microscopic to well over a centimeter in size.  They cause pain when the body attempts to push the stone down the ureter into the bladder and out the urethra.  Sometimes the stones can block the flow of urine coming out of the kidney. Kidney stones can also lead to infection in the kidney because of obstruction.
    The majority of kidney stones (80 percent) are made of calcium in the form of calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate.  The rest of the stones are made from struvite or uric acid.  Stones form in the kidney because a person’s body either excretes too much of a substance in their urine or are chronically under hydrated thus creating a higher concentration of the stone forming substance in the urine.

 How do I know if I have kidney stones and how are they treated?  
    First, if you have a stone, you’ll know. Usually people have severe, agonizing pain ranging from their flank to their groin, depending on the stone’s location. Often people are constantly moving because they can’t get comfortable. People may also have fever, nausea or blood in their urine. Stones are commonly diagnosed nowadays with either a CT scan or an X-ray procedure called an IVP.  Most people can pass the stone if it is less than 6mm, with the help of pain medicine and lots of fluid.  Sometimes the stone is so large that a person needs to have the stone broken up by special machine that uses sound waves to break up the stone into pieces small enough to urinate. Doctors have patients strain their urine so they can have the stone analyzed. Knowing what type of stone a person makes will help in the process of hopefully preventing a recurrence.
    Next time we’ll discuss things that you can do to prevent recurrent kidney stones, both in terms of diet and medications.
    Dr. Christopher Munger’s column appears every other Sunday. Dr. Munger is board certified in family practice. He is a member of the Family Health Care Center in Statesboro and admits patients to East Georgia Regional Medical Center. He is originally from California. He recieved his bachelors degree from UCLA, his medical degree from Columbia University in New York City, and completed his training in family practice at the University Of Virginia. He lives in Statesboro with his wife and two dogs.
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