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What Causes Kidney Stones?

Low Urine Volume

A major risk factor for kidney stones is constant low urine volume. Low urine volume may come from dehydration (loss of body fluids) from hard exercise, working or living in a hot place, or not drinking enough fluids. When urine volume is low, urine is concentrated and dark in color. Concentrated urine means there is less fluid to keep salts dissolved. Increasing fluid intake will dilute the salts in your urine. By doing this, you may reduce your risk of stones forming.

Adults who form stones should drink enough fluid to make at least 2.5 liters (⅔ gallon) of urine every day. On average, this will take about 3 liters (100 ounces) of fluid intake per day. While water is likely the best fluid to drink, what matters most is getting enough fluid.

Diet

Diet can also affect the chance of forming a stone. One of the more common causes of calcium kidney stones is high levels of calcium in the urine. High urine calcium levels may be due to the way your body handles calcium. It is not always due to how much calcium you eat. Lowering the amount of calcium in your diet rarely stops stones from forming. Studies have shown that restricting dietary calcium can be bad for bone health and may increase kidney stone risk. Health care providers usually do not tell people to limit dietary calcium in order to lower urine calcium. But calcium intake should not be too high.

Instead of lowering dietary calcium intake, your health care provider may try to reduce your urine calcium level by decreasing your sodium (salt) intake. Too much salt in the diet is a risk factor for calcium stones. This is because too much salt is passing into the urine, keeping calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine and into the blood. Reducing salt in the diet lowers urine calcium, making it less likely for calcium stones to form.

Because oxalate is a component of the most common type of kidney stone (calcium oxalate), eating foods rich in oxalate can raise your risk of forming these stones.

A diet high in animal protein, such as beef, fish, chicken and pork, can raise the acid levels in the body and in the urine. High acid levels make it easier for calcium oxalate and uric acid stones to form. The breakdown of meat into uric acid also raises the chance that both calcium and uric acid stones will form.

Bowel Conditions

Certain bowel conditions that cause diarrhea (such as Crohn's Disease or ulcerative colitis) or surgeries  (such as gastric bypass surgery) can raise the risk of forming calcium oxalate kidney stones. Diarrhea may result in loss of large amounts of fluid from the body, lowering urine volume. Your body may also absorb excessive oxalate from the intestine, resulting in more oxalate in your urine. Both low urine volume and high levels of urine oxalate can help to cause calcium oxalate kidney stone formation.

Obesity

Obesity is a risk factor for stones. Obesity may change the acid levels in the urine, leading to stone formation. 

Medical conditions

Some medical conditions have an increased risk of kidney stones. Abnormal growth of one or more of the parathyroid glands, which control calcium metabolism, can cause high calcium levels in the blood and urine. This can lead to kidney stones. Another condition called distal renal tubular acidosis, in which there is acid build-up in the body, can raise the risk of calcium phosphate kidney stones.

Some rare, inherited disorders can also make certain types of stones more likely. Examples include cystinuria, which is too much of the amino acid cystine in the urine, and primary hyperoxaluria, in which the liver makes too much oxalate.

Medication

Some medications, and calcium and vitamin C supplements, may increase your risk of forming stones. Be sure to tell your health care provider all the medications and supplements you take, as these could affect your risk of stone formation. Do not stop taking any of these unless your health care provider tells you to do so.

Family History

The chance of having kidney stones is much higher if you have a family history of stones, such as a parent or sibling.