Save Yourself Severe Pain from Kidney Stones

by | Last updated Jan 11, 2024 | Kidney Health

Kidney stones can produce one of the most severe pains that can be experienced, especially if large stones block the flow of urine. More than one in ten people will develop a kidney stone sometime in their lives. Will you be among them? How can you reduce your risk?

The incidence and prevalence of kidney stones is increasing globally. These increases are seen across gender, race, and age. In the United States, 12% of Americans will develop kidney stones during their lifetime. The rate of reoccurring kidney stones is high. At least one recurrence of kidney stones is seen during ten years in 50 % of individuals and in 90% of individuals, a recurrance is seen in 30 years.1

Signs and Symptoms

You might not even know you have a kidney stone until it moves inside the kidney or passes into a ureter. Ureters are two tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. At that point, according to the Mayo Clinic, these signs and symptoms may occur:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain on urination
  • Pink, red, or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present

So that you know, the location of pain caused by a kidney stone may change as the stone moves through your urinary tract.

Signs of More Trouble to Come

As previously mentioned, one kidney stone substantially increases the risk of another one. One study found that even after adjusting for cardiovascular risk factors, individuals with kidney stones were 19% more likely to develop coronary artery disease and 40% more likely to have a stroke when compared with patients who did not have kidney stones.2 Another study found that stone formers had 31% increased risk for heart attacks after adjustment for chronic kidney disease and other comorbidities. 3

Individuals who have had a kidney stone may be twice as likely to have kidney failure later.4

Are You at Risk?

  • Common risk factors include the following:
  • Dehydration
  • Low urinary volume
  • Personal history or family history of kidney stones
  • Elevated uric acid/history of gout
  • Obstruction to the flow of urine
  • Diabetes or its precursor, insulin resistance, can increase the risk for kidney stones composed of uric acid.
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity doubles the risk for the development of kidney stones.
  • Fatty liver disease
  • Elevated calcium. If calcium is elevated, the parathyroid hormone needs to be checked. Note insufficient calcium intake can increase the risk too!
  • Nutritional factors: increased intake of protein, salt or oxalate, decreased intake of calcium, too much salt, vitamin D toxicity
  • Alcohol, smoking, and opium use
  • Inflammatory bowel disease or intestinal bypass surgery
  • History of kidney diseases

Composition of Kidney Stones

Calcium oxalate, a naturally occurring substance found in food, makes up the composition of most kidney stones. Less common stones are struvite stones that can form due to a urinary tract infection. Uric acid stones may result from not drinking enough water or eating a high-protein diet. There are other rare-occurring stones as well.

Drink Sufficient Water (Not Just Any Fluid)

Dehydration is the most common cause of kidney stones. Since adequate water intake reduces one’s risk for urinary tract infection, it follows that sufficient water intake reduces one’s risk for struvite stones. Additionally, lower the urinary concentration of all crystal-forming substances.5   Drink enough water to keep your urine clear or straw-colored. If you take medicine or a vitamin pill, the color of your urine may not be a reliable sign of adequate hydration. In that case, drink 2 liters of water throughout the day (preferably not at mealtime) unless otherwise directed by your doctor.

Tea for Two? Perhaps Not

Iced tea is a popular drink in the summertime. However, a Loyola University Medical Center urologist warns that tea can contribute to painful kidney stones. High concentrations of oxalate, a key ingredient of tea, lead to kidney stones forming. During the summer especially, people can become dehydrated from sweating. Dehydration, combined with increased iced tea consumption, raises the risk of kidney stones, especially in at-risk people. Also, “for persons tending to form the most common type of kidney stones, iced tea is one of the worst things to drink,” says Dr. John Milner, assistant professor at Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.6 Green tea has less oxalate than black tea.

Coke, Anyone?

We should also mention that soft drinks and sweetened beverages are linked to increased kidney stone formation. One analysis found that people who drank just one-sugar cola per day had a 23% higher risk for kidney stone formation compared to those individuals who had a maximum of one per week.7 High fructose corn syrup not only can damage the liver but can increase the uric acid level.8 Colas, rich in phosphates, can increase stone formation. Sodas have also been linked to increased kidney damage and kidney failure.

Move Those Bones to Squelch Those Stones!

Physical activity is proving to be an important element in reducing kidney stones. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, the records of thousands of postmenopausal women were evaluated to see if energy intake and energy expenditure were related to kidney stone formation. Dr. Sorensen, from the University of Washington School of Medicine, said, “Even small amounts of exercise may decrease the risk of kidney stones—it does not need to be marathons, as the intensity of the exercise does not seem to matter.”

Even three hours of average walking ( 2-3 miles per hour), or four hours of light gardening, or one hour of moderate jogging (6 mph) per week can make a difference. Physical activity was associated with a 31% decreased risk of developing kidney stones. Also, the research team discovered that consuming more than 2200 calories per day increased the risk of developing kidney stones by up to 42%. For overall good health, Dr. Sorensen concluded by advising people to be aware of their calorie intake, watch their weight, and do some exercise at least several hours a week.9

Since recurrent kidney stones may increase the risk of kidney disease and kidney failure in time, regular moderate exercise will protect the kidneys. In another study Dr. Robinson-Cohen said, “It is demonstrated that even small amounts of physical activity, such as walking 60 minutes per week, might slow the rate of kidney disease progression. Physical inactivity is emerging as one of the few risk factors for kidney disease progression that is amenable to intervention.”10 Moderate exercise such as walking is superior to running which decreases the amount of blood flowing from the heart to the kidneys to 1%.

What You Eat Makes a Difference

Animal Protein

Limit the animal protein.11 A high protein diet increases the chance of developing kidney stones and other renal diseases. This diet greatly reduces urinary citrate which keeps calcium salts from crystallizing. Consuming excessive animal protein makes the urine more acidic, increasing urinary calcium. These physiological processes promote the formation of calcium-forming stones. Dr. Virginia Aparicio, the chief contributor to the study, warns that the negative effects of high-protein diets on the kidneys also depend on the presence or absence of other dietary nutrients. “Eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables reduces the risk of kidney stones forming—probably due to their high potassium and magnesium content, which compensates for the acidity of the high-protein diet.”12

There is another point to consider: Meats and other animal proteins contain purines that form uric acid, thereby increasing kidney stones composed of uric acid.

Calcium and Magnesium

Be sure to get enough calcium and magnesium from your food. You might think that since calcium is involved in forming two types of kidney stones, you need to restrict it. However, calcium from food does not increase one’s risk for calcium oxalate stones because calcium in the intestines binds to oxalate from food, preventing it from entering the bloodstream and, consequently, the urinary tract.

Broccoli, kale, and turnip greens provide good amounts of calcium and magnesium but are reasonably low in oxalate. While spinach, Swiss chard, and beet greens provide calcium and magnesium, they are high in oxalate and should not be regularly consumed by anyone prone to kidney stones. Since citrate helps to protect from kidney stones, calcium citrate is a better choice if you must have a calcium supplement. Be aware that a magnesium or potassium deficiency and high animal protein intake can reduce citrate levels. Greens, legumes, and whole grains provide magnesium. Various fruits and vegetables provide ample potassium if one is not on a diuretic.

Watch Your Sodium!

Reduce your sodium and salt intake. Excessive sodium consumption increases the risk of calcium oxalate stones and calcium phosphate stones. Why? Too much sodium increases the loss of calcium through the urine. High calcium can combine with oxalate and phosphate in urine to form stones. Although we need some sodium for the nervous system to work, most of us exceed the US daily requirement of 2300 milligrams of sodium daily. Salt, processed foods, canned soups, luncheon meats, aged cheese, pickles, and even puddings are high in sodium. Could you be sure to read labels? Please note if you have pre-hypertension, hypertension, or diabetes, aim at a daily intake of 1500 milligrams of sodium unless otherwise directed by your physician.

Limit the oxalate since calcium oxalate stones are the most common kidney stones. Oxalate is found in a variety of food so you cannot avoid it totally. Studies suggest that oxalate provides some anti-cancer activity. The following foods can increase the amount of oxalate in urine: spinach, rhubarb, okra, sweet potatoes, elderberry, and figs. Beer, black tea, and rosehip tea are exceptionally high in oxalates. Nuts have substantial amounts too.

Careful With Your Acid Level!

Watch your acid level. Substitute plant proteins for high-purine foods (organ meats, herring, mackerel, and red meat). Generally, saturated fats lower the body’s ability to eliminate uric acid. Since alcohol interferes with eliminating uric acid, it is better not to include it in your diet.

Treatment for Kidney Stones

Many kidney stones will pass within 48 hours if a person drinks enough water. Moist heat applied over the kidneys can ease the pain. One essential caveat here is that heat applications are contraindicated if acute inflammation, kidney cancer, or bleeding are present. In cases of diabetes and neuropathy, it must be wisely and skillfully applied.

A 5mm stone has a 20% chance of passing naturally whereas a 4mm stone has an 80% chance of passing without specific treatment. Sometimes medications can facilitate the passage of kidney stones. If the kidney stone is too large, shock waves can break a large stone into smaller pieces that can pass easily through the urinary system. Surgical removal is sometimes necessary. If you suspect a kidney stone, please see your physician.


You can see that preventing a kidney stone is much better than treating it. Prevention saves you pain and money and helps preserve your kidneys. No matter how sophisticated medication may become, nothing beats following an overall healthy lifestyle to prevent disease and discomfort. Drinking six to eight glasses of water a day is paramount to maintaining healthy kidneys. Pure water is free of harmful chemicals, caffeine, sugar, sugar substitutes, or acids added by manufacturers such as phosphoric acid which jeopardizes the health of your bones. Exercise, keeping your weight in the recommended range for your height, and eating a well-balanced vegetarian diet may very well keep you from experiencing the horrible pain of kidney stones. Therefore, make the necessary changes and you will be happy with the results.


© 2024, Wildwood Sanitarium. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer: The information in this article is educational and general in nature. Neither Wildwood Lifestyle Center, its entities, nor author intend this article as a substitute for medical diagnosis, counsel, or treatment by a qualified health professional.


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