Kidney stones can cause significant pain, both while forming inside the kidneys and when passing from the body. Some people claim passing kidney stones is as painful as childbirth, although the pain will depend on the size and number of stones. Whether you have chronic kidney disease can also be a factor, as this can exacerbate the pain felt.
But what causes kidney stones? Does excessive drinking increase your risk of developing kidney stones? We’ll answer both these questions and provide additional information that can help you prevent kidney stones or know when to seek appropriate assistance if they do occur.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are scientifically known as renal calculi, and they aren’t really stones at all. Instead, they’re solid masses made up of crystals that generally form inside the kidneys. However, they can form anywhere along your urinary tract, which (in addition to the kidneys) includes your ureters, urethra and bladder.
Types of Kidney Stones
The crystals that create kidney stones can be made of four materials: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite and cystine. The type of kidney stones often helps determine what caused them to develop.
Getting enough calcium in your diet can help decrease the risk of kidney stones. However, eating too many foods rich in calcium oxalate can also increase the risk that kidney stones will form.
If you suffer from this type of kidney stone, eat fewer foods such as potato chips, chocolate, spinach and peanuts. Calcium oxalate stones are the most common.
Uric acid kidney stones are the second most common type, and they develop when your urine is too acidic. These kidney stones often occur in people with metabolic syndromes such as diabetes.
Uric acid levels can rise if you consume too much purine. Purine is found in animal proteins (including fish). If you have uric acid kidney stones, it’s typically a good idea to reduce your animal protein intake.
Struvite stones mostly occur in people with an active urinary tract infection (UTI), as kidney infections form them. Unfortunately, struvite stones can also be significantly sized to the point where they cause total urinary obstruction and may require more intensive medical interventions.
Cystine stones are rare, occurring in only one out of every 7,000 people worldwide. The reason for their rarity is that an underlying genetic disorder called cystinuria makes a naturally occurring acid called cystine leak into the urine.
Kidney Stone Causes
Kidney stones can have many causes, including:
- Age (kidney stones are most common in people between 20 and 50)
- Gender (males are more likely to get them than females)
- Genetics and family history
- Having had gastric bypass surgery
- Taking certain medications
- Having certain conditions (including metabolic disorders, thyroid issues and inflammatory bowel diseases)
- Diet consisting of high levels of protein, glucose or salt
Kidney Stone Symptoms
Severe pain around the kidneys or along the urinary tract is the most common symptom of kidney stones. The pain can seem widespread or focused on one side of your abdomen or back.
Other indicators of kidney stones can include blood in the urine or an inability to fully empty your bladder. If you have kidney stones, your urine may smell bad or strong and be an abnormal color. Vomiting, nausea, chills and fever are also common kidney stone symptoms.
How to Treat Kidney Stones
Treatment for kidney stones will depend on several factors such as your age, overall health and the type of stones. How many kidney stones there are and how big they are will also be factors. However, a few common ways to treat kidney stones include:
- Increasing fluids
- Intravenous fluids (for those who can’t keep oral fluids down)
- Narcotic or over-the-counter medications for pain relief
- Antibiotics (for those with an infection)
- Other medications (based on the type of kidney stones present)
- Lithotripsy (to break up large kidney stones)
- Tunnel surgery
Your doctor or surgeon may also suggest making positive lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing another kidney stone in the future. For example, they may suggest you eat healthier and decrease certain things in your diet. If obesity was a contributing factor, losing weight can decrease the risk of more kidney stones forming as well as numerous other diseases or conditions.
Staying hydrated is always important, as dehydration is a significant factor in the formation of kidney stones. Besides increasing water intake, you may be told to avoid alcohol, coffee and tea.
The Connection Between Kidney Stones and Alcohol Consumption
Technically speaking, there’s no direct link between kidney stones and alcohol consumption. However, alcoholism can impact the kidneys in several ways and indirectly increase kidney stones’ risk.
Creates a Higher Purine Concentration
Drinking a lot of beer or grain alcohol can lead to a higher purine concentration. As mentioned above, this can lead to the formation of kidney stones by increasing the acidity of your urine.
Since uric acid kidney stones are the second most common type, avoiding alcoholic drinks that increase purine concentrations would typically be beneficial.
Leads to Dehydration
Severe dehydration is a leading contributing cause of kidney stones. Alcohol dehydrates your body faster than normal and can be twice as dangerous because some people don’t realize its true effects. After all, drinking fluids is the primary way to hydrate. But unfortunately, not every fluid is hydrating, and many (like alcohol) have the opposite effect.
Leads to Weight Gain
Obesity can also increase the risk of kidney stones. Since most alcoholic drinks (especially beer) have a high-calorie content, they can lead to weight gain. This is especially true if you have an alcohol use disorder and drink alcohol regularly.
Does Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones?
The short answer is no. Alcohol doesn’t directly cause kidney stones or disease, but it does significantly contribute to several key causes behind the development of a kidney stone.
The chances of developing a kidney stone as an alcoholic are increased, since more alcohol is being consumed over longer periods.
Getting Help for Alcohol Addiction Can Prevent Kidney Stones
Although alcohol use doesn’t directly cause kidney stones, consuming alcohol (especially excessively) can indirectly contribute to their formation. Kidney stones are incredibly painful and can significantly decrease your quality of life. For this reason, anyone battling with an alcohol use problem should get the professional help they need so they can prevent a kidney stone from forming.
What Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder Looks Like
Alcohol addiction treatment is generally individualized, so it may look different from one person to the next. However, detox is almost always the first step.
During detox at a rehab facility in California, you’ll be placed under medical supervision while all traces of alcohol leave your body. This often leads to withdrawal symptoms, ranging from mild to severe. While detoxing and going through withdrawal, you’ll be given the support and tools your body and mind need.
Inpatient and Outpatient Programs
After detoxing, you may go through an inpatient or outpatient alcohol rehabilitation program. The purpose of these programs is similar in that they’re aimed at helping you through the first steps of your recovery journey and providing you with the resources or support you need to remain sober. However, their approach is different.
With an inpatient program, you’ll live temporarily at a rehab facility. This allows you to focus solely on your recovery process without any outside stressors. However, it isn’t always possible for people to take weeks or months out of their lives for an inpatient rehab stay, and that’s one of the reasons outpatient programs exist.
An outpatient program can be used as a first step or as a step down from an inpatient program. You’ll attend support groups and individual therapy sessions for a few weeks or months. Additional resources, such as AA (Alcoholics Anonymous), can be used for support after you successfully complete a more intensive treatment program.
Get Addiction Help at Ranch Creek Recovery
If you’re currently battling excessive alcohol consumption or alcoholism, Ranch Creek Recovery is here to help. Contact us today to learn more about how we can support your recovery at our treatment center, under the care of our compassionate addiction specialists.
Not sure if your insurance will cover the costs of alcoholism treatment? Verify your insurance benefits with us today so there’s no surprise when it’s time to start your program.