Drinking alcohol can cause various health problems if drinkers are not careful about how much they consume. Misusing or abusing alcohol can bring a host of health issues, and you may be wondering if kidney stones are among those problems. While it is thought that alcohol does not directly cause kidney stones, that doesn’t mean drinkers shouldn’t be concerned about their alcohol intake.
Drinking too much alcohol can bring about conditions that could lead to kidney problems, including the formation of kidney stones. If you get a kidney stone after drinking, it is a sign to take some time to figure out what you need to do to remove it as soon as possible. This could be as simple as drinking more water or seeing a doctor if your case requires more involved care.
What Are Kidney Stones?
As the Mayo Clinic explains, kidney stones are hard mineral and salt deposits that form inside of kidneys. They form when minerals from concentrated urine crystallize and stick together. These deposits can affect any part of the urinary tract, Mayo Clinic says, including the bladder. The clinic lists various things that can cause kidney stones, such as:
- Medical conditions
- Certain supplements and medications
The clinic does not list alcohol as a cause.
Passing a kidney stone is often a painful experience for many people. How people pass kidney stones is unique to their situation. Some people may need to drink water and take pain medicine to pass a stone, while others may need surgery. This is usually required if a kidney stone becomes stuck in the urinary tract.
How Do You Know If You Have a Kidney Stone?
The Mayo Clinic says you probably won’t know you have a kidney stone until it becomes stuck in the ureters. These are the tubes that connect the kidneys to your bladder. When this happens, you may feel:
- Sharp pain on your side or in your back under your ribs
- Pain in your lower groin or abdomen
- Pain that comes and goes and changes in intensity
- Burning or pain when you urinate
You could also notice changes in your urine, such as:
- Urine that looks pink, red, or brown
- Cloudy or urine that smells bad
- Feeling the need to urinate more often than usual
- Urinating in small amounts
- Vomiting and nausea
- Fever, chills if you have an infection
It could be hard to pinpoint where you feel pain. This is because kidney stones move around in the urinary tract, so you may notice pain differs depending on where the stone is in the tract.
Mayo Clinic advises that you see a doctor if you feel discomfort that makes it hard to sit still. You should also see a physician if you feel sick, experience fever and chills, see blood in your urine, or have a hard time using the restroom.
Alcohol’s Effect on the Kidneys
Kidneys are part of the urinary tract system. These bean-shaped organs are about the size of the human fist and are found below the rib cage and under the liver in the back of the abdomen area. Their main function is to filter out extra waste, harmful waste, and toxins from the blood. These toxins include alcohol.
After they filter the blood for these things, they transfer them to the urine so they can exit the body. Kidneys also ensure the body maintains a healthy balance of sodium, potassium, and calcium in the body.
Dehydration After Alcohol Use Can Increase Kidney Stone Risk
Drinking alcohol affects nearly all parts of the body. When it comes to the kidneys, alcohol acts as a diuretic, making drinkers urinate more often. According to the National Kidney Foundation, excessive drinkers make their kidneys work harder. Over time, drinking alcohol in large amounts changes the kidneys’ ability to filter the blood properly. Drinking too much also puts drinkers at risk of severe dehydration.
Dehydration is dangerous because it affects how the body’s organs function, including the kidneys and the liver. The foundation also notes that drinking alcohol can raise one’s blood pressure to levels that increase one’s chances of developing kidney disease and heart health problems. Heavy alcohol use can also increase your chances of developing diabetes, which also puts the kidneys at risk.
It is important that drinkers replace the water they lost while drinking alcohol. Dehydration leaves the kidneys without the fluids they need to move toxins and other chemicals along. If they don’t have what they need, the substances will settle in the kidneys and crystallize into stone form. The chance of this happening increases when the urine has crystal-forming substances, such as calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, Mayo Clinic says. Crystals can also form if the urine doesn’t have substances that block crystal formation.
What to Do If You Get a Kidney Stone After Drinking Alcohol
Kidney pain after drinking alcohol is usually an indication that the kidneys are working harder than usual to rid the body of alcohol. If you get a kidney stone after drinking alcohol, you need to know why you’re feeling pain and what caused your kidney stone. Not all kidney stones are the same. Mayo Clinic advises that you save a kidney stone if you pass one. Your doctor can analyze it and provide further information.
Your kidney stone could be any of the following:
- Calcium stone. These stones are made of calcium oxalate, a substance the liver makes daily and comes from a person’s diet. Calcium and oxalate can become concentrated in the urine if a person takes a lot of vitamin D, has intestinal bypass surgery, or has a metabolic disorder, Mayo Clinic says. What a person eats can also bring about calcium stones in the kidneys.
- Struvite stone. You could pass one of these stones if you have a urinary tract infection. Mayo Clinic advises that struvite stones can grow large quickly without warning.
- Uric acid stone. A person who has diabetes, eats a lot of protein, or loses too much fluid due to conditions, such as chronic diarrhea, can develop uric acid kidney stones. Genetics can also be a reason for this condition.
- Cystine stones. A person with cystinuria can cause the kidneys to release too much of a specific amino acid, which could lead to cystine stones.
Avoiding Kidney Stones: What to Do
There are things you can do to avoid kidney stones, and it all starts with what you put into your body. The main thing to remember is that you must stay hydrated with fluids, particularly water, to help the kidneys move along substances that cause kidney stones to form. Healthline advises increasing your intake of citrus fruits, which have citrate. Citrate can help prevent kidney stones from forming.
If you drink regularly and notice you pass kidney stones often, you may need to cut back on your drinking or stop altogether. Consulting with your doctor about your drinking can give you a better idea of what to do.
Generally, avoiding excessive drinking is a sound idea. If you or someone you know drinks four or more drinks daily, this is defined as excessive drinking. Consuming alcohol in moderation looks different for different people, but limiting your drinking is one way to avoid creating conditions that could lead to the formation of kidney stones, such as dehydration, which we covered above.
You may also want to watch the foods you eat. Healthline also advises limiting salt and lowering your intake of animal protein. High salt levels can cause calcium to build up in the urine, and animal protein boosts the uric acid the body produces. It also advises watching your intake of foods that contain oxalate, such as:
- Swiss chard
Avoiding cola drinks and lowering your sugar intake can also help you avoid kidney stones.
What About Other Alcohol-Related Kidney Issues?
Kidney stones are not the only conditions one can experience after drinking alcohol. Others include:
- Kidney infection: If you are drinking and have a urinary tract infection, the alcohol may aggravate your symptoms. You should up your water intake and see a doctor for care.
- Hydronephrosis: This condition is when one or both of your kidneys are swollen because they have too much urine. If they accumulate too much urine, it means urine isn’t draining properly from the kidney to the bladder. If you have kidney stones, you could develop hydronephrosis. This is another reason to see a doctor as soon as possible.
- Ureteropelvic junction (UPJ) obstruction: You could have kidney pain if you drink alcohol and have UPJ, which prevents the kidneys and bladder from working properly. If the condition does not improve on its own, a medical procedure could be the next step to take.
Getting Help for Alcohol Use
Optimal health is ideal, and drinking too much alcohol puts that at risk. It also puts the body at risk, including the kidneys. While alcohol does not directly form kidney stones, it can dry out the body, leaving the kidneys without the water it needs to function properly. This is one of many ways alcohol can harm you, especially if you have trouble controlling your alcohol intake.
You can get help for alcohol use disorder (AUD). Delphi Behavioral Health Group operates a network of treatment facilities throughout the U.S. that can help you address your challenges and get on the road to recovery. Give us a call so that we can help you take steps to change your life today.