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It seems like everyone has either had a kidney stone or knows of someone who has suffered from the condition. And if you think you’re hearing about it more these days, you’re right.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, the prevalence of kidney stones in the United States increased from 3.8 percent in the late 1970s to 8.8 percent in the late 2000s. In fact, the lifetime risk of kidney stones for men is about 19 percent and the risk for women is 9 percent.

These small, hard mineral deposits that form inside your kidneys have multiple causes ranging from dietary habits to genetics, and can affect any part of your urinary system. Passing a kidney stone rarely causes permanent damage, but it can be very painful, even requiring surgery if a stone becomes lodged.

Most people don’t know they have kidney stones until symptoms occur. And the larger the stone, which typically ranges in size from a grain of sand to a pebble, the more noticeable the symptoms. The most common symptoms include:

  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back
  • More vague pain or stomach ache that doesn’t go away
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Urine that smells bad or appears cloudy

Here are steps you can take to reduce your risks of kidney stones:

  • Drink more water – It reduces the concentration of waste products in your urine. Darker urine is more concentrated, but very light yellow to clear urine typically indicates that you are well hydrated. Aim for 12 glasses of water a day, and even more when the weather is hot.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables – This makes the urine less acidic, slowing or preventing development of the stones. It’s important to note that animal protein produces more acid in the urine.
  • Reduce salt – Since excess dietary salt can lead to kidney stones, cut back or eliminate high-salt foods like potato chips and fries. Also beware of hidden salt in foods like deli meats, canned soups, packaged meals and sports drinks.
  • Maintain a healthy weight…safely – While weight loss is invaluable for a number of health conditions, high-protein diets can lead to kidney stones. Eating a balanced diet that is approved by your doctor is always the best route.

If you suspect you have a kidney stone, see your doctor right away. There are a number of effective treatments to reduce the size of the stone and intensity of pain. But left untreated, kidney stones can increase your risk of developing chronic kidney disease.

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