Unless you've had a kidney stone before, chances are you rarely give them a second thought. But when you do have a kidney stone, you learn it's a surprisingly excruciating phenomenon. Kidney stones are essentially mineral and salt deposits that form inside the lining of a person's kidneys. The kidneys work to flush out toxins and substances from the human body, which exit via the urinary tract. But some calcium buildups are unable to pass through the urinary tract, causing discomfort - to put it mildly - for the unlucky kidney owner.
Typically, a kidney stone can be passed after a person ingests a medley of hydrating substances, which forces it through the urinary tract and out of the body. But sometimes, stronger treatment measures are necessary.
By taking a closer look at what exactly kidney stones are and how they interact with the human body, you can learn how to avoid them - or, at least, minimize their negative effects.
A typical human body contains a lot of salt and other minerals. Occasionally, these substances clump together; however, the resulting formations can vary widely in size. Generally, they're relatively small, and if the kidneys and urinary tract are functioning properly, things should pass directly through without discomfort. If the organs aren't working correctly, though, mineral buildup can accumulate and become painful.
It's also important to know that calcium consumption does not necessarily cause kidney stones. Doctors advise that calcium can actually help the body absorb oxalate, a compound that can create blockage.
You can spend most of your life blissfully unaware of the floating salt and mineral crystal clusters in your kidneys - that is, until they cause a blockage. Occasionally, clusters will travel down the ureter (the narrow duct leading to your bladder).
The problems - and the pain - begin when these stones become too large to pass.
You may have already passed a few small stones through your urine and never noticed. But when substantial stones move through the urinary tract, one of the first symptoms is severe back, abdomen, and groin pain.
Other signs that you may have a kidney stone are frequent and painful urination, blood in the urine, or cloudy urine. In extreme cases, the pain can be intense enough to cause severe nausea and vomiting.
It's statistically more likely for men to develop kidney stones than women, but anyone with a diet high in animal protein and sodium is at higher risk.