Seniors with Kidney Stones Need Special Care

January 5, 2015
Some back pains may indicate a kidney stone. (Photo courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Some types of back pain are indicators of kidney stones. (Photo courtesy of Ambro/FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Whatever one’s age, kidney stones can present challenges, but seniors in particular should take special care to prevent or deal with them. Caregivers should also know the causes and signs of kidney stones, as well as what special care to take to treat them.

What is a kidney stone?

Technically known as renal lithiasis, kidney stones are deposits of minerals and salts that form inside the kidneys. These formations are usually small and quite solid, and can accumulate anywhere in the urinary tract.

What causes kidney stones?

There are numerous culprits that can cause kidney stones. A kidney stone may form whenever there is an abundance of crystal-forming substances in urine; the more there are of these substances, the more urine is needed to dilute them and keep them from coming together to form a stone. Calcium, uric acid, and oxalate are some (but not all) of the ingredients that may accumulate and crystallize.

Kidney stones are more common among the elderly than among younger generations, largely due to age-related issues such as changes in bone mineral density and bone loss.

Many individuals develop kidney stones without ever discovering their presence. Small kidney stones may easily pass through the system without attracting attention. Larger stones, however, can become stuck in the urinary tract, and can cause significant pain until they pass.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

As mentioned above, sometimes a kidney stone causes no discomfort and so there are no tell-tale signs. However, when the stone is of sufficient size to cause an issue, the symptoms below are among the most common:

  • Body pain. Kidney stones often cause severe pain, frequently in the side or lower back. This pain often spreads to other areas as well, such as the groin or the stomach. In many cases, the pain can ebb and flow, reaching differing peaks of intensity.
  • Urinary discomfort. Pain during urination is another common symptom associated with kidney stones. In addition, urine may have a red or brown tinge, may be cloudy and may have a distinct, unpleasant aroma. Unfortunately, kidney stones often increase one’s need to urinate as well.
  • Nausea.  Many people experience stomach upset when afflicted with kidney stones, and may even vomit.
  • Fever/chills.  In some cases, patients also experience fever and chills.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment varies depending upon the severity of the stone. Treatment may be as simple as increasing one’s intake of water, using pain relievers, or taking alpha blockers (which relax muscles to allow the stone to pass more readily). Sometimes more advanced solutions, such as sound wave therapy or surgery, are required.

Prevention includes taking special care to drink plenty of water and make appropriate changes in diet, depending upon the kind of stone (calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, or  uric).  The National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse has information on dietary changes to help with kidney stones. Access that information here.

Writer, Craig Butler

Craig Butler has been writing on a wide range of topics for more than fifteen years. As the National Communications Director for the Cooley's Anemia Foundation, Craig regularly writes on a range of health and medical topics. Among the many projects he has written for the Foundation is the Cooley's Anemia Storybook, a collection of original short stories for children with the blood disorder Cooley's Anemia. His freelance work has ranged from reviewing moves and CDs to creating entertainment-related stories about baldness, to creating text for comic strips. Craig looks forward to having a dialogue with you about senior care and issues of concern.

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