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Why Men Are More at Risk for Kidney Stones

August 24, 2021

Anyone who has had a kidney stone knows that passing it can be incredibly painful. Though relatively common in both men and women, men are more likely to develop a kidney stone. In fact, nearly 11 percent of men will experience a kidney stone in their lifetime, versus just 6 percent of women. 

Kidney stones are crystallized minerals and salts in urine that stick together to form “stones.” They can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as large as a ping pong ball. They may stay in the kidneys or travel through the urinary tract — made up of the kidneys, bladder, ureter and urethra — before leaving the body. 

What Does a Kidney Stone Feel Like? 

Most people don’t notice they have a kidney stone until it moves from the kidney into the ureter — the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder — and causes pain. There are a few symptoms to watch for, including:

  • Severe, sharp pain in lower abdomen or back, typically on one side

  • Burning sensation when urinating

  • Urge to urinate frequently or feeling like you can’t empty your bladder

  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine

  • Brown, red or pink urine, indicating the presence of blood

  • Nausea

  • Fever and chills

Kidney stone symptoms and pain levels vary from person to person, and the size of the stone isn’t necessarily a measure of how much pain it will cause. Some people feel intense pain with a 3-millimeter kidney stone, while others can pass larger stones without pain.

Causes of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones form when there is a change in the balance of water, salts and minerals found in urine. Common causes of kidney stones include:

  • Dehydration/not drinking enough water

  • Medical conditions like gout

  • Obesity

  • Weight loss surgery

  • Eating foods high in sugar or salt

  • Genetic predisposition

Kidney stones are most common in men between the ages of 20 and 49. The primary reasons men are more likely to develop kidney stones include:

  • Diet. A high protein, high salt diet makes kidney stones more likely. Men tend to have a greater intake of both.

  • Dehydration. Men tend to drink less water than the recommended daily intake — about 64 ounces a day.

Passing Stones and Prevention 

Typically, the smaller the kidney stone, the more quickly it passes. Stones smaller than 4 millimeters pass on their own 80 percent to 90 percent of the time. Stones that are between 4 and 6 millimeters take more time, on average 45 days. Only 20 percent of stones larger than 6 millimeters pass without medical intervention, and it can take up to a year for them to pass. 

Kidney stones can be prevented by following these guidelines: 

  • Drink plenty of water — at least 64 ounces (8 cups) a day. Adding fresh lemon or lime juice to the water can help break up existing kidney stones.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Reduce consumption of sodium, which is high in prepackaged foods, fried foods, deli meats and sports drinks.

  • Eat plenty of vegetables and fruits, and reduce protein intake.

  • Avoid sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. 

Is It Time To See a Doctor? 

You should see your doctor for kidney stones if you experience any of the following symptoms: 

  • Persistent pain that doesn’t go away with the use of over-the-counter pain medications

  • Pain that leads to nausea or vomiting

  • Fever and chills

  • Blood in the urine

  • Difficulty urinating and/or pain while urinating 

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and may run diagnostic tests, such as a CT scan, to diagnose kidney stones and determine the size and location of the stones. 

Your doctor also may prescribe medications to help the stone pass or ease the pain and other symptoms while you wait for it to pass naturally. In some cases, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the stone, particularly if it is too large to pass naturally, or if it’s blocking the urine flow.

 

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