More than a million Americans develop kidney stones every year (Gail Savitz, author of The Kidney Stone Book). No one knows when they are going to develop them, and most people who form them never feel them passing – if they pass at all. However, there are a large number of us who are habitual “stone makers”, and we experience a kidney stone every year or every few years – without fail.
Pain from a kidney stone is worse than labor pains, it is worse that the pain from a collapsed lung. I have experienced all three pains. Nothing compares to the feel of a jagged edge piece of calcium sliding down the length of your side and back. Passing out is something a kidney stone sufferer can often be heard begging for. Just get me out of my misery.
My first stone started with the pregnancy of my third child, and it was too big to pass. I was too pregnant for it to get blasted, so I spent a month on heavy pain killers, and had to have the stone surgically removed – which was no picnic on lidocaine alone.
Since that time, I have passed many more calcium-based stones (80% of all kidney stones found in human kidneys) and each time feels like the first and the worst. It leaves me shaken and fearful that another may come. While it has taken me more than a decade to recognize this, I have learned that there are symptoms and signs that a stone is coming. It has helped me to prepare better for them since I make the kind of stones that cannot be dissolved with medication. And I have discovered that there are seasons when stones are more prevalent than in others.
Season: This is my first area of prevention. I have almost always, with once exception alone, passed a kidney stone during the spring and summer months. My family physician said he had many patients who passed stones during this time, and he even referred to the hotter months as “kidney stone season”. It is assumed that the heat causes dehydration, and without enough water, stones form and then eventually pass or try to.
Activity: A sudden onset of activity – like taking up walking or running when I haven’t done it in years will bring on the movement of a stone. I try now to make my activities gradual and not all at once. And once I begin a new exercise, I drink 8 0z of water every hour for 8 hours. It is the only way to ensure that I get the stone out before it grows to big.
Irritability: We all become irritable at times. But when a stone is getting ready to pass, the stone-bearer’s patience can wear even more thinly than at other times. I, personally, begin to hate loud noises, having to repeat myself, and cannot stand up without feeling strangely tired. I find that my irritability is so uncontrollable, that even I am shocked by it and I have to stand back and wonder what is angering me so much.
Lower Back Pain: I have learned to recognize the vague, gnawing lower back pain that comes with the onset of a stone passing. It feels as though sand paper is growing between the joints of my lower vertebrae. I was always fooled, believing it was a UTI. But it is always a kidney stone. It may pass in a month. It may pass in an hour. But generally, when I begin to feel this pain, I have about two weeks time before I will wake up in the middle of the night in severe sweats and stabbing pain.
Extreme Thirst: For some reason, with all the symptoms above, at exactly the same time, there comes the sense that I can never get enough water. I drink like a fountain, and yet, I am still always thirsty.
Nausea: I feel this at the end of most meals. It is, like the back pain – vague – and a busy lifestyle can easily distract from its warning. But it should not be ignored.
Crave Salt: For some reason, before the onset of a stone passing, I crave salt as I do water. I can’t get enough of it. I even dream about eating heavily salted foods.
Bloody Urine: This generally means the stone is already blocking the kidney or ureter in some location. This is a sign that you should see your doctor immediately.
Fortunately for me, I have been dealing with these long enough that I have learned to get an annual CAT scan – which can immediately pick up any and all stones – no matter how small. At least I know if I currently have any (which I usually do) and how big they are. Stones under 2mm will hurt, but will pass in generally every case. Between 3mm and higher, you are likely to have problems depending on your size.
It is also good to have a doctor you trust prescribe a very small amount of painkillers for you that you can take should the stone hit when you are away from home, or traveling. Naturally, you cannot drive with this kind of medication, but a friend or business partner can, and it will spare you the worst of your pain. Never be afraid to demand pain medication for a kidney stone. Any doctor who denies you help during a kidney stone attacks should be immediately fired as your primary caregiver.
I am no doctor, but these signs have followed every single kidney stone attack I have had, and I am aware of several other acquaintances who have these exact same symptoms. The bigger the stone, the stronger the symptoms. Now that spring is at the edge of summer, I have my symptoms available for me to recognize, and I can defeat kidney stones before they knock me to the ground.