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Are Kidney Stones an Omen?

Tim Boyer's picture
big kidney stones

Kidney stones are one of the most common urinary tract disorders shared by men and women. Approximately half a million visits to the ER per year are attributable to patients who are in severe pain resulting from the body trying to actively pass a kidney stone that is blocking either of the ureters between the kidneys and the bladder. Immediate relief is typically experienced once a stone has passed. However, according to researchers, that relief may be misplaced as it could be an omen of future kidney disease for some.


Kidney stones are hard, rough-surfaced masses that develop from crystals as chemicals and minerals separate from urine within the kidneys and urinary tract. Typically, the human body prevents formation of crystallized stones via inhibitory chemicals in the urine. However, in an unexplainable trend, the incidence of developing kidney stones is rapidly increasing in developed countries such as Canada and the U.S. Currently, the Canadian population is experiencing an incidence of approximately 5-7 percent of developing kidney stones, whereas in the U.S. it’s a whopping 10-11 percent.

The hypothesis that kidney stones may be associated with an increased risk of future kidney disease or other health problems is one that has not been adequately addressed. Recently, researchers from the University of Alberta decided to put the hypothesis to the test by analyzing the medical data of more than three million Canadians over an 11-year period from 1997 to 2009 to determine what percentage of patients who had at least one episode of kidney stones eventually developed some form of kidney disease afterward.

Using statistical analysis software, what they found was that in comparison to people who have never had a kidney stone, those who had were twice as likely to develop a serious kidney disease later in life. Furthermore, women under 50 with a history of kidney stones were four times more likely to develop kidney failure later in life.

According to a press release issued by the University of Alberta:

“I am not surprised by these findings because when you are passing a stone through a kidney, there is definitely the potential for permanent damage,” says Todd Alexander, MD the study’s first author, a pediatric nephrologist and researcher in the Department of Physiology and the Department of Pediatrics. “I think what these results tell me, is that we should be screening those with a history of kidney stones for risk factors for the development of kidney disease,” says Alexander.

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Fellow researcher and co-author Marcello Tonelli adds that, “It’s important to note that the vast majority of people with kidney stones won’t develop permanent kidney damage. But a few will, and that’s why it’s important for people with stones to get proper follow-up care—to reduce their risk of another stone, and to detect kidney damage if it has occurred.”

Kidney stone prevention is not an exact science. However, the current recommendation that people can follow on daily basis is to ensure that they drink 8-12 glasses of water a day to flush out the chemicals and minerals involved in kidney stone formation.

A dietary approach toward kidney stone prevention may require blood and urine testing so that your physician and dietician will know your urine chemistry levels of acidity, calcium, sodium, uric acid, oxalate, citrate and creatinine. Such information can be predictive of what type of kidney stones susceptible patients are prone toward, and can then be used to adjust their diet toward kidney stone prevention. For example, people prone to developing calcium oxalate kidney stones can benefit by avoiding foods rich in oxalate such as chard, spinach, beets, rhubarb, peanuts and chocolate.

For more information about recent research on kidney stones, follow this link to an informative article titled, “Why People Get Kidney Stones, New Discovery.”

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: “Kidney stones and kidney function loss: a cohort study” British Medical Journal 2012 ;345:e5287; (Published 30 August 2012).