Why are kidney stones more common in summer?
Barbecues, baseball, ice cream, and … kidney stones? Every year, as spring gives way to summer, doctors know they’ll see more patients with symptoms of kidney stones.
Severe pain in the back or abdomen, nausea, and blood in the urine can all be signs that a kidney stone may be moving through your system. But why would it be more likely to happen in the summer?
University of Iowa urologist Ryan Steinberg, MD, who specializes in the treatment of kidney stones, says one major reason is dehydration.
Dehydration helps kidney stones form
Kidney stones are formed from tiny bits of calcium and other materials that are filtered from urine in the kidneys. When the kidneys have a steady flow of fluid moving through them, those bits stay tiny and pass out of the body unnoticed. But when fluid is less present, Steinberg says, that gives those tiny bits a chance to stick together and grow.
Once formed, some stones stay in the kidneys and never cause any harm. But when a stone starts to move, problems can arise. A stone caught in the ureter (the tube that moves urine out of the kidney and into the bladder) can cause urine to back up into the kidney, which can cause pain and discomfort.
The pain may come and go. As the stone moves, that can intermittently relieve the pressure from backed up urine, and that can lead to temporary relief of symptoms.
Advances in kidney stone care allow urologists to treat most patients with non-invasive or minimally invasive treatments.
“Stones can be broken using lasers or ultrasound, and in most cases, pieces can actually be removed by the surgeon, all without any incisions to the body,” Steinberg says.
Drink more water and eat the right stuff
To enjoy a stone-free summer, he says, pay attention to what you put into your body.
“Drinking lots of water can help significantly with prevention. But that’s not the only important step. Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt, low in animal protein, and has normal amounts of calcium and oxalates.”
Calcium and oxalates are the most common elements found in most kidney stones. Oxalates are in foods you might normally think of as extra-healthy, like spinach, certain types of nuts, and bran and wheat cereals.
“While it seems counterintuitive, eating too little of these foods can put you at increased risk for stone formation just like eating too much of them,” Steinberg says. “So it’s not just important to learn about what foods to eat—it’s also important to learn about how much of them to eat.”
Don’t wait to get care for kidney stone pain
If you notice signs of a kidney stone, don’t wait. Contact your primary care physician, or, if you’re having severe pain, go to your local emergency room or urgent care center.
And if you’ve had a kidney stone in the past, there’s up to a 50% chance you’ll have another one in five to 10 years, so stay vigilant.
“Contact a urologist, even when you’re not dealing with an active stone, and talk about preventive strategies,” Steinberg says. “Kidney stone care should always include a plan for preventing new stones.”