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What is the Role of the Kidneys?

Kidneys are essential to your overall health, serving multiple essential functions. The primary role of the kidneys is to filter the blood of toxins and turn the waste into urine

They also regulate the body’s electrolyte and water levels, keeping them constant. 

And finally, they secrete hormones important to proper bodily function. 

When your kidneys stop working properly, harmful toxins and waste products can build up, leading to various side effects and dangerous conditions.

What are Kidney Stones? Are They Serious?

Urine consists of dissolved salts and minerals. These salts and minerals are waste byproducts of cell metabolism, the set of chemical reactions necessary for life. 

Typically, your kidneys filter these salts and minerals out of your body through your urine. When they fail to do this, these waste byproducts build up in your urine, leading to the formation of kidney stones. 

A kidney stone can be as small as a grain of sand, meaning you can pass it without feeling anything or even knowing about it. But kidney stones can also become large enough to block urine flow, making them difficult to pass without severe pain.

While generally not life-threatening, kidney stones can be extremely painful. In some cases, surgery may be needed to prevent infection.

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Types of Kidney Stones

There are four main types of kidney stones:

  • Calcium stones: These are the most common kind of kidney stones. They form from an excess of calcium in urine. There are two types of calcium stones: calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate. Calcium oxalate is the most common. About 80% of kidney stones are from calcium. 
  • Uric acid stones: These occur when the acidic content in your urine gets too high, forming uric acid crystals. Uric acid kidney stones make up 5 to 10% of all kidney stones.
  • Struvite stones: Also known as infection stones, these mostly occur due to urinary tract infections. Struvite stones can also form when urine is too basic or alkaline. These stones are known for developing very quickly. 
  • Cystine stones: Cystine is an amino acid found in certain foods and is one of the building blocks for protein. Cystine stones develop from cystinuria, a rare, inherited disorder involving too much cystine in urine. The formation of cystine stones often begins in childhood.

What Causes Kidney Stones?

There are two main reasons kidney stones may develop

The first is when urine volume gets too low. This mainly happens due to dehydration. Low urine volume means there is less fluid in urine, leading it to become concentrated and dark-colored. The upshot of this lack of fluids means minerals and salts do not get dissolved as easily, leading to kidney stones.

The second major cause is from having urine that is too acidic, which can also raise your risk of developing kidney stones. This is usually due to dietary factors. Diets high in animal protein and lacking fruits and vegetables raise acid levels in urine. This can result in the formation of calcium (particularly oxalate) and uric acid stones.

Symptoms & Risk Factors of Kidney Stones

The most prominent symptom of kidney stones is severe pain and cramping in the back and side. This pain often moves to the abdomen and groin, coming and going in waves as your body tries to remove the stone. 

Other symptoms may include: 

  • Feeling a persistent and intense urge to urinate
  • Pink, brown, or red-colored urine, often foul-smelling
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever or chills

The two most significant risk factors for kidney stones are dehydration and diet. Among other reasons, dehydration can occur from excessive exercise, hot climate, or alcohol consumption. 

Certain diets may lead to the formation of kidney stones as well, particularly those high in protein, sodium, or sugar. More indirectly, diet can increase a person’s risk for kidney stones through high blood pressure and obesity.

Some people are at higher risk due to genetic factors, such as family history. Also, if you have had a kidney stone before, there is an increased chance another may develop later.

Why Do My Kidneys Hurt After Drinking Alcohol?

The purpose of the kidneys is to filter waste from the body, and proper water intake is required to replace this waste. Alcohol dehydrates you, which makes it difficult for this to happen. 

On top of that, you are intoxicated, which also puts a strain on your kidneys. This is one reason why you may feel pain after that glass of wine or beer.

The best way to avoid this pain is to drink plenty of water after a night of drinking.

Can Alcohol Cause Kidney Stones? 

Alcohol does not directly cause kidney stones. However, excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of developing kidney stones in several ways. The most common way this happens is through dehydration. 

Other factors associated with excessive alcohol use, such as weight gain and poor diet, can be risk factors for kidney stones.

Should I Drink Alcohol if I Have Kidney Stones?

If you already have kidney stones, drinking alcohol may worsen your condition. Drinking alcohol can cause kidney stones to move around faster, causing increased pain in the body. 

How to Prevent Alcohol-Related Kidney Stones

The best way to prevent kidney stones from alcohol use is to drink alcohol in moderation. Excessive drinking or addiction will put you at a higher risk of developing kidney stones. Drinking plenty of water and staying hydrated will also help reduce your risk. However, the best way to avoid alcohol-related kidney stones is to abstain from drinking entirely.

Some studies indicate moderate alcohol consumption can actually help reduce your kidney stone risk.1 

While the exact link is unclear, it appears that beer and wine may have some beneficial effects. 

Scientists believe it may be due to alcohol’s role as a diuretic, which makes you more likely to urinate. This may reduce kidney stone risk, which is associated with low urine output.

Are Alcoholics More Prone to Kidney Stones?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD), also known as alcoholism, increases your risk for kidney stones in several ways. First, drinking alcohol dehydrates you, which as mentioned before, will put you at higher risk. And as you become intoxicated, this weakens your kidney’s effectiveness at filtering waste products. 

In addition, heavy drinking is associated with poor diet and obesity, which are two risk factors for kidney stones. 

Treatment Options for Alcohol-Related Kidney Stones

Alcohol-related or not, once you develop kidney stones, you have several ways of treating them. Depending on their size, you can simply pass them when you urinate. 

If it is too large or painful to pass naturally, you may need to seek advanced medical care. There are non-invasive surgeries available to help you pass the stones. 

Shock wave lithotripsy involves using shock waves targeted at the area of the body with the kidney stones. The waves shatter them into fragments that are small enough to pass through the urethra without pain. 

The other, laser lithotripsy, entails a long, thin telescope inserted upward into the urethra. Once secured, a laser is used to blast the stones into tiny pieces. 

Even more invasive options include ureteroscopy and nephrolithotomy. The first involves passing a telescope into the bladder. The second consists of making a small incision into the back to physically remove the stone. The most invasive option, open surgery, is used in very rare cases.

Do I Have a Drinking Problem?

Symptoms of alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:

  • Drinking more or for longer than you originally intended
  • Allowing alcohol consumption to interfere with daily responsibilities
  • Drinking alone
  • Craving alcohol
  • High alcohol tolerance

If you feel any of these symptoms, it may be time to get help from an addiction treatment professional.

Treatment for Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)

There are a variety of resources available for those suffering from AUD. Mental health treatment approaches (such as behavioral therapy) can help address the underlying behaviors that drive some to drink. 

Mutual support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) can provide a strong support network for those in addiction treatment for alcohol misuse.

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Resources

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  1. Ferraro, Pietro Manuel, et al. “Soda and other beverages and the risk of kidney stones.Clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology, vol. 8, no. 8, 2013, pp. 1389-95. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.
  2. Mayo Clinic. “Alcohol use disorder.www.mayoclinic.org.
  3. Mayo Clinic. “Kidney Stones.www.mayoclinic.org.
  4. National Kidney Foundation. “Kidney Stone Treatment: Shock Wave Lithotripsy.www.kidney.org.
  5. Urology Care Foundation. “What are Kidney Stones?www.urologyhealth.org.
  6. WebMD. “What Are the Treatments for Alcohol Use Disorder?www.webmd.com.
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