Prevent kidney stones

kidney stonesAnd save money!

If you’re interested in how much a kidney stone costs, read this blog post from the Costs of Care website. The author of the post gives an accounting of her physician visits, diagnostic tests and medications:

  • At least 5 sets of blood work, with CBC and chemical profiles, parathyroid studies
  • Several urine tests, including urinalysis and urine culture, and two 24 hour urine tests (a third 24 hour urine test was recommended but I declined)
  • 2 CT scans
  • 1 MRI
  • 4 specialist visits, 2 primary care visits, 2 ER visits (involving IVs, pain meds, lab studies)
  • Prescriptions for antibiotic (no infection) and Flomax
  • Lab analysis of my kidney stone

She estimates the total cost for her ordinary kidney stone at about $15,000. Wow. Even though she was lucky enough to have insurance with small co-pays and a low deductible, she knew she received tests and medications and specialist referrals that she didn’t need.

Unfortunately, we aren’t all shielded from the outrageous costs associated with common health complaints. My health insurance plan comes with a $6,000+ individual deductible. If I or my husband ever get a kidney stone, we will be out of pocket for that amount—just for a stupid little rock! According to the National Institutes of Health:

Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. Each year in the United States, people make more than a million visits to health care providers and more than 300,000 people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems.

That adds up to a lot of health care dollars. I’m going to make sure neither my husband nor I ever suffer the excruciating pain and apparent financial hardship caused by kidney stones.

What are kidney stones?

And what are the risk factors? The kidneys’ job is to filter and clean our blood. Sometimes, under certain conditions, minerals and other filtered products can clump together and form little stones. These stones can be smooth or jagged, large or small. They might pass easily and unnoticed in the urine, or they might become lodged somewhere in the urinary tract, which is extremely painful. If a stone can’t be passed in the urine, it must be removed surgically or broken into smaller, passable pieces using sound or shock waves (lithotripsy). Risk factors for kidney stones include some you can’t change:

  • Age (more common as we get older)
  • Gender (more common in men)
  • Genetics (if close family members have had kidney stones, take more care!)

But we do have some control over other risk factors

  • Obesity
  • Dehydration
  • A diet high in protein and sodium

Simple diet changes

Maintain a healthy weight, which is always a good idea anyway.

Drink more fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated. Dry climates, or dry indoor air from heat or air conditioning can cause chronic dehydration. So can frequent exercise and heavy work, which cause you to sweat a lot. Lemon water (1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice in 1 cup water) is best for preventing kidney stones because lemon juice is full of citric acid, or citrate. Citrate helps prevent kidney stones from forming. Bottled lemon juice instead of fresh works, too, but artificial lemon drinks and lemonade with a high sugar content aren’t helpful.

Get enough calcium in your diet; aim for around 1,000 mg/day. Eat a variety of calcium-rich foods, such as dairy products, fortified orange juice, seeds, nuts, canned sardines, dried figs, tofu, dark green and dark yellow vegetables. Avoid calcium supplements, if you can, because these can actually cause kidney stones. Related post: Boning up on calcium

Reduce animal proteins and sodium in your diet. Protein creates uric acid, a major component of some kidney stones. Avoid those trendy high pro/low carb diets.  Keep your salt intake to about 2,300 mg/day, or about 1 teaspoon.

Eat oxalate-rich foods in moderation; oxalate combined with calcium forms the most common kidney stones. Oxalate-rich foods include chocolate, beets, rhubarb, peanuts and spinach. Cooking helps lower the amount of oxalate in spinach.

If you’ve already had a kidney stone, you will have to be much more mindful of drinking enough fluids and watching what you eat. The rest of us can make a few simple modifications to our diets—changes that are healthy, anyway—and hope for the best!


Frugal Nurse

Image by RJHall (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


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