How to Prevent Kidney Stones

Written by: Jennifer Gorman (*Amsive Digital)  |  Reviewed by: Shelley Wyant  |  *MHP partners with Amsive Digital on news content

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are hard deposits that form inside the kidneys. They’re very common, with about one in 10 women and one in five men developing a stone at some point during their lives. Fortunately, they’re largely preventable through strategies like eating a healthy diet and drinking enough water. Read on for details about how to prevent kidney stones.

Understanding Kidney Stones in Seniors

As you age, understanding how kidney stones develop becomes even more important. Here’s a look at how they form.

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard, rock-like deposits that form in the kidneys, the organs that filter waste products and excess water out of the blood to make urine. Sometimes, the waste products clump together and make a stone.

Two narrow tubes, called the ureters, carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. The bladder stores urine until it leaves your body through another narrow tube, the urethra. Kidney stones can cause severe pain as they move through the ureters or urethra. 

Types of Kidney Stones

There are four main types of kidney stones, each with its own causes.

  • Calcium stones: Calcium stones are the most common type. They form when calcium phosphate or calcium oxalate and other waste products clump together.
  • Uric acid stones: These stones form in urine that’s too acidic. Eating a lot of fish and meat is one possible cause of acidic urine.
  • Struvite stones: These stones can develop suddenly in response to a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Cystine stones: Cystine stones are made of the amino acid cystine and can form in people who have cystinuria, an inherited disease.

Key Strategies to Prevent Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are not an inevitable part of the aging process. Here are some key strategies to help prevent kidney stones.

Stay Hydrated

Drinking enough fluids is crucial for kidney stone prevention. When you drink plenty of water, your urine is more diluted. The lower concentration of minerals makes it harder for kidney stones to form.

The general guideline for hydration is to drink six to eight cups of water per day. Some seniors need more or less water depending on factors like their health needs and exercise habits. Talk to your health care provider about how much water you need.

Dietary Adjustments

Following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan may help seniors prevent kidney stones. The DASH plan recommends limiting fatty meats, sweets, and high sodium foods. It recommends eating a variety of healthy foods, like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, beans, and nuts.

Seniors who are concerned about calcium oxalate stones may choose to avoid foods that contain high levels of oxalates. Some examples include spinach, rhubarb, wheat bran, and peanuts. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing a kidney stone. Research suggests that people who are carrying extra weight tend to have a low urine pH, meaning their urine is more acidic. Acidic urine creates an environment where kidney stones can form.

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can help seniors reach and maintain an ideal weight. Focus on eating whole, nutrient-dense foods like those in the DASH plan, and make time for regular exercise, like walking or water aerobics.

Recognizing Kidney Stones Symptoms

Sometimes, kidney stones form even if you take steps to try to prevent them. Here’s a look at some of the signs that a stone has developed.

Early Signs of Kidney Stones

A kidney stone may not cause any symptoms while it’s forming inside the kidney. The early signs of kidney stones typically appear when the stone starts moving through the ureter. 

The main symptom of a kidney stone is sudden pain on the side of the back or in the abdomen. The pain may come and go or shift to different locations as the stone moves. Other symptoms can include pain when urinating or cloudy urine.

When to Seek Medical Attention

See your doctor as soon as possible if you notice the early signs of kidney stones. Left untreated, kidney stones can cause serious complications. 

Seek immediate medical help if you experience any serious kidney stones symptoms, such as:

  • Pain so severe that you can’t sit still or get comfortable
  • Difficulty passing urine, such as straining or decreased flow
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain with fever and chills
  • Pain with nausea and vomiting

Medical Interventions and Lifestyle Modifications

While healthy habits can help prevent kidney stones, there are also some medical interventions available for stone prevention.

Medications to Prevent Kidney Stones

People who’ve had a kidney stone in the past have about a 50% higher risk of getting another stone in the next 10 years. Doctors may recommend medication to help prevent new stones from forming, such as:

  • Potassium citrate: Potassium citrate makes the urine less acidic. It may be prescribed to prevent calcium stones, uric acid stones, or cystine stones. 
  • Diuretics: Also known as water pills, diuretics help your kidneys produce more urine. They may be prescribed to prevent calcium stones. 
  • Antibiotics: Antibiotics are medications that treat infections caused by bacteria. Doctors may recommend them to prevent struvite stones.

Regular Health Screenings

Regular checkups with your health care provider can play a role in the prevention and early detection of kidney stones. 

Preventive health screenings can help diagnose chronic conditions that can increase your risk of kidney stones. Some examples are obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The Role of Exercise in Preventing Kidney Stones

Research shows that people who get regular exercise have a lower risk of developing kidney stones compared to people who don’t exercise, but it’s still crucial to stay hydrated.

Exercise Guidelines for Seniors

Staying active helps seniors stay healthy as they age. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans encourages older adults to aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise, like brisk walking.

If you’re not currently active, it’s never too late to start exercising. If you have chronic health conditions or disabilities, ask your doctor to recommend exercises that suit your needs.

Balancing Exercise with Hydration

Regular exercise promotes good health, but if it’s not paired with adequate hydration, it can contribute to kidney stones. When you exercise, you lose water through sweat. That means you make less urine, which allows minerals to clump together in the kidneys. 

To stay well hydrated during exercise, try to drink enough water to replace the water you lose through sweat. The amount you lose through sweat will vary depending on many factors, like the air temperature and how hard you exercise.

Take Action to Prevent Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are common, but fortunately, they’re largely preventable through habits like staying hydrated, following a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. In some cases, doctors recommend medications to help prevent kidney stones.

For personalized advice about preventing kidney stones and keeping your kidneys healthy as you age, talk to your doctor or health care provider.

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