Why Are Doctors More Frequently Diagnosing Kidney Stones These Days?

Second only, perhaps, to childbirth, passing a kidney stone is the most painful experience you can endure.  Known medically as nephrolithiasis, kidney stones can range in size from small and harmless—often passing when you urinate with no consequence—to large enough to lodge in your urinary tract. Should this happen, it can cause blockage, which results in severe pain in the abdomen and/or groin; sometimes this can cause a urinary tract infection.

While this is a perfectly normal phenomenon, it seems that doctors are diagnosing them more often these days.  According to a new study, kidney stone diagnose has risen dramatically—among both male and female patients—from 1984 to 2012; the largest increase has been among younger women.  In fact, kidney stone diagnosis among women (per every 100,000 women) has quadrupled, while diagnosis for men has doubled.  Now, men are still slightly more likely to have confirmed—and very painful—kidney stones.

The study authors argue that this increase in diagnoses has something to do with how doctors have changed the way they monitor kidney stones.  For example, in 1984, less than 2 percent of patients who reported painful symptoms were able to have their stones confirmed with a CT scan.  In 2012, though, that number had jumped to 77 percent.  The scientist advise, however, that more accurate CT scans have allowed for doctors to find insignificant kidney stones that are small and not yet causing pain, completely by coincidence.

Kidney stones are caused by the accumulation of waste passing through the kidneys.  Crystals form and collect on the inside of the organ and eventually build up to form hard-stone lumps. Better and more consistent hydration can help to reduce the risk but you can also minimize risk by eating a diet lower in fats, sugar, and salt.

Apparently, race can also play a factor:  almost 90 percent of kidney stones are diagnosed among white patients.

Symptoms of kidney stones can include:

  • Lower back ache, sometimes accompanied by pain in the groin; men can also have pain in their scrotum and testicles
  • Periods of intense pain in the back or the side of your abodmen
  • Restlessness; an inability to lie still
  • Nausea
  • More frequent urination
  • Pain during urination
  • Blood in the urine

Medications that can increase kidney stone risk include:

  • Aspirin
  • Antacids
  • Antibiotics
  • Antiretroviral medicines
  • Anti-epileptic medication
  • Diuretics

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