Living With Kidney Stones: How I reduce my risk of future flare-ups

On a Saturday morning in May of 2014, I got up out of bed experiencing a pain from my lower back and left side that I had never felt in my entire life.  Soon after, this pain was accompanied by frequent vomiting and the overwhelming urge to urinate even though nothing was coming out of me.  The back pain/side pain became so severe I could not walk.  My wife eventually drove me to the hospital to see if I was suffering from appendicitis.  It turned out I had a very large kidney stone lodged in my digestive system.  The doctor provided pain killers and advised me that parts of the stone will eventually pass through my body, but it might take time for the entire stone to exit my system.

Having no previous kidney stone issues, I was curious as to why I started having problems in my late 30’s.  In this post, I will provide insight into what caused my many kidney stone flare-ups between 2014 and 2017.

Cause 1: Dark-Colored Soda Pop

When my wife and I had our son in 2013, our lives went from an average of seven hours of sleep a night to less than four.  I was never a coffee drinker, so I was consuming a lot of caffeinated soda pop to keep me awake while at work.  Sure, I drank a few glasses of water each day, but I was probably consuming two to three liters of Mountain Dew or Coca-Cola daily.  Numerous studies have suggested a correlation between dark soda and a higher frequency of kidney stone trouble, and my issues verify this link.  Prior to 2013, it would have taken me five to seven days to drink two liters of soda pop.

After my first attack, I started drinking coffee and reduced my soda pop intake to pre-2013 levels.  I drank plenty of water and I did not have another attack until December 2015.  When I had my second attack, I knew my water intake was low that day but when I rehydrated I still had problems on and off for a few weeks.  I couldn’t understand why then, but I soon realized why after reading further studies.

Cause 2: Vitamin Supplements

As time marched on and my son got older, my diet did not improve since my wife and I were always tending to him, working all of the time and eating whatever was quick and/or convenient just to get through the days.  Eventually I started taking vitamin supplements to get my body the nutrition it was lacking.  What I did not know was that supplements have been shown to increase the probability of kidney stone reoccurrences in patients that have had major problems with passing them.  Supplements rich in calcium and vitamin D were especially responsible for more attacks, and I was taking supplements that included heavy doses of calcium and vitamin D.  When I had my second attack in December 2015, I was taking vitamin supplements occasionally for over a year.  After I quit taking them, I made sure I was getting my vitamins naturally through my food choices and kept drinking plenty of water.  But, I kept having occasional problems in 2016 and I found out another trigger for kidney stones that I should have caught when I discovered the supplement link.

Cause 3: Antacids

The active ingredient in antacids is calcium carbonate.  1000mg of CALCIUM carbonate in each tablet.  By having this much calcium in each tablet, antacids provide a daily amount of calcium just like vitamin supplements are engineered to do.  I was taking antacids on occasion to relieve indigestion and heartburn and I ended up indirectly giving myself more kidney stone issues.  Once I stopped taking antacids the kidney stone attacks calmed down toward the end of 2016.  After I identified the three causes for my kidney stones I thought I would be stone-free as long as a kept drinking enough water to keep my kidneys flushed.  But kidney stones are like life–sometimes the events of the past can wreak havoc on future endeavors.

THE ROLLING STONE

March 17, 2017 was a Friday.  I worked my usual daylight shift and the anticipated snowfall of that day did not happen.  I was on-call for snow removal so my weekend wasn’t going to be a fun one if snow was going to fall.  Around 6 p.m. that night, Pittsburgh got hit with a complete white-out of a snow storm that lasted all of thirty minutes.  About two inches of snow fell and another one or two inches of additional accumulation were threatening on weather radar.  I got called into work to remove the snow which disrupted my dinner plans and my most important task during the evening hours–drinking a few glasses of water.

I drank some water during my time at work but it was not an adequate amount for somebody living with kidney stones.  I left work at 11 p.m., praying that I would not get called back in during the night.  I was tired and I had an overwhelming urge to urinate.  I knew from past experience that I would have to stay up until at least 2 a.m. before going to bed.  The pain from my stones would not go away unless I drank enough water to fill up my digestive system and flush my kidneys.  After two to three hours of pain, my agony would stop once I was full of water.  But this time, something was wrong.

2 a.m. came and the pain continued.  More water, more pain, then it was 3 a.m.  I was urinating all the time at this point but I was still having extreme pain.  4 a.m., then 5 a.m.  Finally just after 6 a.m., my pain started to go away.  I think I urinated clear and frequently from 4 a.m. until 7 a.m.  I was awake for over 26 hours and I was still on-call for snow.  Thankfully, we did not get any snow the rest of the weekend.  I felt fine the rest of Saturday and all of Sunday.  I went back to work on Monday and everything seemed to be back in working order with my body.  Work on Monday was fine, and I headed home to clean up before going to pick up my son.  Before getting into the shower, I felt like I had to pee.

Everything felt normal when I started peeing.  Then, without warning I was overcome with extreme pain.  It felt like my penis was on fire and I stopped urinating for a split-second.  It felt like something was blocking my urine flow and as fast as the pain came on, it went away.

*PLOP*

I continued to pee without much discomfort, but I was confused as to why I had so much trouble going for that split-second of extreme discomfort.  Then, I looked in the toilet.

In the toilet was a pea-sized brown ball.  This ball just exited my body through my urethra.  In the past three years my kidney stones were little granuales of sand that would pass through my system.  On that day, I passed hundreds of these granuales at one time.  I felt fine after I passed this monster of a kidney stone and I haven’t had any problems since this incident.

AFTERMATH

Over the last few months I have continued to follow the same water regimen to combat against another flare-up, but I have occasionally experimented with cutting back on my water intake to see how my body would react.  Since I “dropped the ball”, I’ve had no discomfort when restricting my water consumption.  The pea-sized stone that slowly rolled through my digestive tract for almost three years was gone, and my symptoms of kidney stone issues went with it.  I continue to drink about two liters of water a day even though my pain is nonexistant.  I remember the agony of passing kidney stones and I hope I never have to experience that pain again.

 

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