Isolated or Chronic? Figuring Out Your Personal Plumbing

I haven’t had a kidney stone in a while, but I often find myself thinking: How do I know if my kidney stone pain is a single episode? What qualifies as chronic kidney stone disease? I don’t have them often—maybe once every year or two—but I know a lot of people who seem to be affected every few months. Here’s the scary thing: If you have chronic kidney stones, you and your physician need to talk. You need a strategy, because kidney stones mean business. Of course, they’re painful, but they can be extremely dangerous and be a signal of greater health issues.

Apparently, if you have a kidney stone once every one or two months, the condition is considered to be chronic. However, even if you get stones once or twice every year, you should consult a doctor. Though the cause can stem from varying factors, the largest reason for seeing a professional is, well, preventing new stones from forming. Those bastards hurt more than anything in the world, and if you think there’s the potential for another to form, you need to talk to your doc ASAP.

So, what do I mean by “there’s the potential for another to form?” There are a few ways to figure this out. The first is identifying the type of stone you most recently passed. Cystine stones are almost always hereditary, meaning you’re very likely to have more in the future. Uric acid stones are often not chronic, and they are easy to treat. Calcium stones are the most common and have the most widely-ranging outcomes.

If you go to the doctor for your kidney stone, talk to your doctor about getting a standard 24-hour urine kidney stone risk panel. This will be able to identify supersaturations that may develop into future stones. You’ll also be able to see the chemical makeup of your urine, which could prove to be very important. If you haven’t had a kidney stone for a year, ask for an annual follow-up with your doctor to see if your urine has changed or stayed the same. If you’re able to go that long without a stone, it likely isn’t chronic, but it never hurts to check.

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