Kidney Stones: Not Just for Men

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kidney stones in women

When I first felt the unknown pain in my lower abdomen it was so sharp and so intense that I ended up in the fetal position on my living room floor. I was moaning, in tears, and scared. The hot fire sensation was ripping through my right side and around to my back. I had never felt anything like it before. I was home alone with nobody but my cat to sit there blinking at me in confusion.

My initial thought was it must be from the endometriosis I was diagnosed with a few years prior. Maybe a cyst on my ovary? A bladder infection gone unnoticed that was suddenly out of control? I knew it just had to be some kind of female problem. What else could it be?

As I made my way to the nearest emergency room I thought I was going to pass out from the pain. I was driving myself, which I highly don’t recommend, and considered pulling over to call an ambulance. I was extremely nauseous, dizzy, hyperventilating from a combination of nerves and pain, and somehow cold and sweaty at the same time. Luckily, I made it there safely.

When the Doctor first spoke with me he too suspected it was something related to my endometriosis or perhaps a cyst on my left ovary. I was given pain and nausea medication and sent for a CT scan.

A little while later the Doctor returned with some odd news: I was passing a kidney stone and it had gotten stuck, causing an extremely painful condition known as renal cholic. Essentially, this teeny tiny rock was making my kidney contract as it tried to push it out and into my urethra. But wait. I had a kidney stone? I was an early 30-something female. This didn’t happen to females, right?

Kidney Stone Prevalence and Composition

Kidney stones occur in 10.6% of males but they also occur in 7.1% of women. That translates to roughly 1 in 11 people in the United States from both genders combined. This is not only a male problem or an older person problem, as I was now finding out.

Not only was I passing a kidney stone, I had developed several others in both kidneys. They sit there, waiting, like little nuclear bombs that can drop at any second. Or at least that’s what I told my Doctor while under the influence of some very strong pain medication.

The pain eventually subsided enough for me to go home and the fluids they pumped through my IV helped the stone, which I never saw, pass from my body at some point. The next day I was sent to see a urologist. I was easily the youngest person in the waiting room and couldn’t help but laugh at my misfortune.

According to the urologist, there are several types of kidney stones. To find out which type I was personally dealing with would require me to catch one with a strainer. It was metal mesh with a long handle and loosely resembled something you would use while cooking in the kitchen. Unfortunately, I am stubborn and got tired of using mine so I never caught the stone. Also not recommended.

Fighting Kidney Stones with Diet

I was given information about diet and certain foods that can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Like any pamphlet about food handed to you by a doctor, this contained many of my favorite things like sweet tea and chocolate. I tossed the information in a drawer when I got home and sat down on my couch to pout.

After my pity party, the realization of it all began to settle in. I was fairly young and dealing with several health problems including endometriosis and the frightening reality of multiple kidney stones. I really never wanted to experience that again and knew it was time for a change. A real change. A drastic change.

My urologist mentioned stress being a possible factor for the creation of kidney stones and encouraged me to reduce it. At the time, I laughed and said “I wish” but I now realized that he had a point. My stress levels were out of control and had been for a very long time. I tried different things to reduce it but nothing seemed to truly work long term.

Yoga, Mindfulness, and Meditation

I dragged out my laptop and searched YouTube for beginner yoga videos for stress relief. I thought it was a long shot. I am the opposite of flexible, but I decided to give it a try. I tried one video and then another. Before I knew it, I was wrapped in my own little bliss cocoon. I was hooked. I began to practice on a regular basis from the comfort of my home and eventually branched out to practicing mindfulness and meditation.

Mindfulness graphic
Photo courtesy of Nova Southeastern University. Link to full image listed below.

While I wasn’t sure that yoga and practicing mindfulness and meditation would stop my body from producing or passing more kidney stones, I loved the way it calmed my maxed out mind. It undid the knots that formed along my spine and in my neck and shoulders from stress and anxiety. I was sleeping better and felt happier.

This change led to me wanting to make more changes. Another huge culprit of kidney stone creation is dehydration. I was a chronic soda and sweet tea drinker. The only water I drank was in my coffee each morning. I thought giving up these beverages and switching to water would be torture. Impossible. But it wasn’t.

Small Steps, Big Changes

I began with drinking water throughout the day and having either a soda or sweet tea with dinner at night. Eventually I found myself craving water at dinner. I kept the one cup of coffee in the morning and began tracking my water intake with an app on my phone. I began drinking green and herbal teas when I craved something with flavor. I became an antioxidant nerd and found I loved researching the benefits of different types of tea.

All of this water drinking led to me pulling out those pamphlets about diet. I began with slow changes. Less fast food and pizza and more cooking at home. More vegetables and fruit. I made it fun by looking up new recipes on Pinterest. Eventually I found that I craved the exact foods I used to avoid.

I joined a gym for the first time in several years. I lost weight. And, a year later, when I went for a check up visit with the urologist after passing no additional stones I was told I had also not created any new ones. What I was doing appeared to be working.

Kidney Stone Management

Recently, I found myself in the emergency room not once but twice with kidney stones. So back to the urologist I went. The bad news? In the past year my kidneys have created about half a dozen more stones. Kidney surgery is being discussed. The thought of it makes me squeamish.

The good news, although this was not a happy development, is that I know what worked before. I have slipped in my yoga and exercise and I have backtracked a bit on my healthy eating. Okay, fine, I backtracked quite a bit. But there’s nothing like the excruciating pain of a kidney stone and the awareness of more that could strike at any moment to grab your attention and get you back on track.

There are many chronic health conditions we don’t think about very often as women and kidney stones are one of them. However, chronic kidney stones can lead to kidney disease and possible kidney failure. We are more than our reproductive organs and we need more than knowledge about the importance of mammograms. Ladies, please drink your water and take care of your kidneys.

Mindfulness photo courtesy of Nova Southeastern University.  Full image available here.

This post was published originally on Hormones Matter in October 2015.

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2 Comments

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words Lisa! It’s been tough at times but I try and keep a positive attitude and find the humor as often as possible. 🙂

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