Kidney Stones: Are They Part of a Team?

Many of us think of kidney stone disease as affecting only one organ and requiring a single treatment, but recent studies suggest that kidney stone disease is a complex disease which affects multiple organs and systems in the body.
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As I was watching football over the weekend, I thought about sports and the differences between team and individual sports. Much like a team, the human body is a complex collection of organ systems, with each member of the team playing a specific role. Each organ works together with other organs towards a common goal. We have many organs and systems, each with their own responsibilities, and yet, when something is out of sync, it often has a ripple effect on the rest of the body.

Organ systems directly and indirectly impact one another in more ways than science has been able to discover. Some diseases affect single organ systems, but most others affect multiple organ systems. For example, many of us think of kidney stone disease as affecting only one organ and requiring a single treatment, but recent studies suggest that kidney stone disease is a complex disease which affects multiple organs and systems in the body.

In fact, a recent research study in the National Kidney Foundation's American Journal of Kidney Diseases showed a link between kidney stones and cardiovascular disease. If you have a kidney stone, your chances of developing coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke is increased.

Researchers found that those with kidney stones had a 19 percent increase in risk of developing CHD (defined as either having a heart attack or arterial bypass surgery) and a 40 percent increase in the risk of having a stroke. Even after adjusting for other cardiovascular risk factors, the evidence still suggested an association between kidney stones and cardiovascular disease.

A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms from crystals in the urine. In most people, natural chemicals in the urine prevent stones from forming, but nevertheless kidney stones are common, affecting more than 1 in 10 people in the United States.

The peak age for developing kidney stones is between 20 years and 50 years. White Americans are more prone to develop kidney stones than African Americans, and men are much more likely to develop stones than women. Other diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, chronic diarrhea, or kidney cysts might increase the risk of stones. If you're at risk for developing a kidney stone, think seriously about lifestyle modifications to help prevent both kidney stones and cardiovascular disease.

If you've experienced a kidney stone, work with your healthcare practitioner to create an individual treatment plan and consider asking your physician for a thorough cardiovascular assessment.

Here are five tips to reduce your risk of kidney stones and cardiovascular disease:

  1. Maintain a healthy body weight. This requires balancing your calorie intake with exercise and activity. Body Mass Index (BMI) is a key index for relating a person's body weight to their height. Your BMI is your weight in kilograms (kg) divided by your height in meters (m) squared. Ideal body weight is a BMI less than 25. Overweight is a BMI between 25 and 30 and obesity is defined as a BMI in excess of 30. The epidemic of obesity in the United States has had a significant impact on the increasing prevalence of kidney stones. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome are associated with increased incidence and severity of kidney stones.

  • Improve your diet. Too much salt and sugar in the diet can lead to stone formation. I recommend following the DASH diet, which is known for being low in salt, high in fruits and veggies, moderate in low fat dairy and low in animal protein. Most Americans eat more than the recommended amounts of animal protein and salt.
  • Quit smoking. The strongest modifiable risk factor for both kidney and heart disease is smoking. Smoking causes hardening of the arteries which causes both coronary artery disease and nephrosclerosis, or damage to the kidney's filtering units. Smoking is also a risk factor for high blood pressure which can cause both heart and kidney disease. Furthermore, there has been a recent report linking cigarette smoking and kidney stones.
  • Hydrate! Dehydration can also cause kidney stones, because it allows for stone-causing minerals to concentrate and settle in the kidneys and urinary tract. It's important to drink fluids and water is best. Ideally, drink 2 to 3 liters of water daily. Another option is sugar-free fresh lemon or lime juice mixed with water. The bottom line: Aim for clear urine.
  • Control your blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause both kidney and heart disease. It puts continued stress on the heart, causing enlargement and thickening of the heart. This ultimately leads to heart failure. High blood pressure also causes damage to the blood vessels leading to the kidney filters (called glomeruli). Drugs such as hydrochlorothiazide used to treat high blood pressure will decrease the risk of kidney stones. The DASH diet mentioned above also has a very positive impact on lowering blood pressure, as well as preventing against kidney stone formation.
  • For more information about the kidneys and kidney stones, visit the National Kidney Foundation at

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