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Kidney Stones Are More Beautiful Than You Might Think (nytimes.com)
77 points by sohkamyung 6 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 36 comments



They may be "beautiful" to look at through a microscope, but goodness forbid you don't want to "experience" one! (My experience was only a tiny stone 8 years ago, that was "resolved" by drinking litres of water. Still a goddamned hell that was.)


I had 3 stones in my right salivary gland which I dropped when I was 12 or something like that. My experience was: (1) since it was insanely painful and I could feel it with my hand (just above my neck) I kept pushing it forward and forward which made channels inside my right salivary gland to get larger and it's still (after ~10 years) larger than my left gland. (2) My mom never believed me that there is something there, he thought I'm just sick and that's the lymph node. When I finally took the stone out of there with my own effort, she was like "haha there is no way that came out of your mouth, that's probably just leftover food in your mouth". Thankfully my doctor knew better. (3) Every time the stone kept getting smaller (the first one was like ginormous, the third one was barely visible) but I think the smaller the stone, the sharper it gets and god that third one was so fucking painful.


If anyone today is struggling with kidney stones, I suggest trying a roller coaster: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/04/science/roller-coaster-ki...


I really did get one out. Like 4-5mm big, after a roller-coaster. Sudden movements tend to "unblock" stuck stones in the kidney.


It’s this kind of revelation which makes HN worth reading.


Seeing plenty of comments on here about not wanting to experience a kidney stone, and while I've not had one, I knew someone who did. He was pretty much the 'hardest' guy I know - very manly, did lots of stuff like rally driving, etc. He used to do motorbike racing, and in once race he fell off and his fingers got caught between the chain and rear sprocket - leading to damage which meant surgery and a permanently disfigured hand - but he still managed to get back on the bike and finish the race. That's the kind of guy he was.

This man described passing a kidney stone as the 'worst pain imaginable', so I can only imagine what I would think it was like... Since that day I've made sure I drink plenty of water.


The article describes them as a coral reef in your kidney. Having cut myself on a coral reef while diving, I can only imagine running one of those through my kidneys. The thoughts of it make me almost pass out.


There's a home remedy (not sure if it works): add some baking soda to the water; this will help dissolve the stones or prevent them from forming in the first place. Of course, adding too much can cause other issues such as low stomach acid (digestive) problems.


While there are a few things that _might_ slow the formation a bit, there isn't anything that will dissolve already formed stones of the most common type (calcium oxolate). Some of the less common stone types like uric acid stones do have possible treatments in some cases.

Just drinking a lot more water is the only treatment that really does help slow or stop the formation for many people.


I would think adding more salt would only worsen the problem. Adding soluble salts are used to precipitate other salts (e.g common ion effect). Not sure how valid that is here tho.


Having had a kidney stone and having captured it for diagnosis in a piss filter I can guarantee that they really aren't that interesting. Just looks like a tiny little pebble you might find in your shoe. They also hurt. A LOT. As in the kind of pain that made me think, "I am going to just keep yelling until somebody does something to stop this pain."

Seriously, what is the point of this Times article anyway? It's like let's write a big long article about something that means absolutely nothing to anyone and is of zero practical importance except trying to reenforce the dubious idea that good things come out of human suffering.


The practical applications of it are explained in the article:

Doctors often base patient care plans upon the chemistry and molecular components of a patient’s urine. But further research could allow doctors to take advantage of the changing composition of kidney stones themselves, boosting specific ingredients to dissolve the stones completely, without excruciating passage or invasive procedures.

“Now that we know a process by which they’re growing, the question is, how can we flip the switch the other way, and break the stones down?” said Dr. Matlaga, the surgeon. “If you can intervene at a certain time during these events, you might be able to manipulate the process by which the stones are growing.”


I'm not saying we shouldn't study why kidney stones occur and how to treat them, but saying they are "beautiful" does not contribute to our scientific understanding of them.


I’ve read on some forum somewhere that women who have given birth rate labor pain as less painful than passing kidney stone.


Given that some women receive an epidural I can believe it.


I get one to two stones per year because my kidneys are over efficient. I'm fairly used to it now and can usually pass one with minimal discomfort, but every now and then it destroys me. The only beautiful thing about them is when they exit.


Can you please elaborate? I am 33, still getting those, precisely 12-18 months apart. Left and right kidneys. My father has them too. I changed my lifestyle a bit - gettnig mode vitamin d3 + vitamin k2 - supposedly that way you get the calcium where it is supposed to be - in the bones and not in the kidneys. I am pretty clean now, maybe for the first time in my life - regular check did not show any stones. But interested in finding what exactly do you mean by over-efficient. edits: Changed my age. Can't believe I was thinking 32, when I am 33 in fact. Duh.


Someone I know swears by rowatinex https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubmed/1431192

I pray that I won’t ever need to consider taking it though (passed one stone last year)


I take this one as well. Makes you pee more often and has a good effect on me in general! Thanks for sharing.


Sorry, I missed this - Quite simply my kidneys filter more than they're meant to, it's hereditary, as you've discovered. I've found that a cup of stone breaker tea once or twice a week keeps them at bay so that's well worth looking into. Look it up on Amazon.


Not sure if this helps, hope it will

"An apple a day keeps kidney stones away" https://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-08/ason-aaa0810...


Beautiful images. They use "A high-resolution method, called Airyscan super-resolution microscopy"

I'm guessing this type of microscope: https://www.zeiss.com/microscopy/us/products/confocal-micros...

And I had never heard of the "Basic Principle of Airyscanning" which is pretty neat: https://www.zeiss.com/microscopy/us/products/confocal-micros...


They are beautiful outside me. When they were inside me they were very painful. The feeling of passing them via urine is crazy pain worse then getting kicked in the nuts.


As a recent kidney stone sufferer I find it tremendously hard to agree with this headline.


As a 15+ years since my last, I too struggle. I mean sure, calcifications are cute. So is stone picked up on a beach. I'll take the beach stone please.


If you are starting to get obsessed with those stones, you may want to watch "The Wisdom of Crocodiles" [1]

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120894/


I guessing that these images are artificially coloured, given "nanometer-scale auto fluorescence microscopy" as one of the methods. Quite amazing none the less.


Yup, the original paper (https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-31890-9.pdf) seems to suggest this: “SRAF image composed of merged three pseudo-colored red, green and blue (RGB) channels. Brightness and contrast of the RGB channel intensities are adjusted to highlight the dark crystalline fabrics.“


> They identified organic matter and calcium crystals with ultraviolet light, which uses different wavelengths to make distinct minerals glow.

> A high-resolution method, called Airyscan super-resolution microscopy, captured colorful snapshots of organic matter and crystal layers in the kidney stones, “crosscut and truncated” by newer crevices, triangles and other geometrics, Dr. Fouke said.


I had kidney stones a couple of times and I was (unpleasantly) surprised to find that you don’t pass out from the pain. I had always assumed that, given enough pain I would just pass out.


I’m waiting for the first hipster hand made kidney stone jewelry.


Well, kidney stones are essentially mineral deposits, so I’m not surprised they look so similar to crystalline deposits occurring in nature.


Don't worry. The Times is ON IT.


I've had kidney stones a few times and found into online to be inadequate, so here's my anecdotal summary:

There are 3 kinds of pain you can experience. From talking and reading, everyone can have different experiences.

The first is when the stone is trying to exit your kidney. I've never been stabbed, but "being stabbed in the kidney" is how I describe this. It is pain you can't escape, but hydration helps. I didn't know you could vomit from pain, but you can. At lower pain levels it is more of a painful twinge. This pain can be constant or "wavy" - I could be crippled for hours or perfectly fine and then switch.

The second is while the stone works its way into the ureathra (I'm probably getting all the locations wrong, but the symptoms are the point). This feels like a UTI - a burning itch and the constant feeling (but not reality) of having to urinate. Despite the low pain levels, I hated this phase the most.

The third is actually passing the stone. This can be a quick sharp pain, no pain at all, or an agonizing drawn out experience. The stones vary in sharpness (stones can have different textures, mine that look managed to catch were clumps of crystal grains and some grit-like mortar, so degrees of effective sharpness also vary. ) "coral" is not a bad description of the material.

Size matters a lot - apparently stones are very normal and people pass tiny ones all the time without knowing. Unfortunately, if one stuck around in the kidneys to get larger and got loose (I have no real idea of what that means in terms of tissues) it can hurt. More unfortunately, the resulting inflamation can trigger more, so it not uncommon to get waves of stones. With a few days or a couple of weeks in between.

Time to pass, indeed, time in each of the three stages can vary. I've been fortunate that most of mine pass in a few days, with the worst taking 3 weeks with an ultrasound attempt to break it up after the first 2 weeks.

I feel fortunate that, despite the intense kidney pain that not everyone gets, I've had only minimal discomfort in actually passing the stones.

One important note: hydration is key to pain reduction. Chug water constantly. My biggest issues were always 2-4 am, when I'd been asleep and not drinking for a few hours - by the time the pain woke me up, I had a few bad hours ahead of me.

There is a lot of folk medicine out there, as well as random advice about diet, including from doctors, but I've not found any convincing nor consistent recommendations beyond water hydration.

Medical treatment is normally to just hydrate and wait it out. Some docs will want an xray to see if they can see if they can see it, but the resolution isn't usually good enough for that to mean anything. A GOOD ct scan can see it, but if are in the US don't bother until a specialist requests it or the specialist will just want it done by them. If the stone is too large to pass on it's own, or taking too long (your call, but probably at 2 weeks) they can hit it with ultrasound to try and break it up into smaller pieces. They may not get it though, so this can take more than one visit.

Lastly, I want to say that debates about pregnancy be kidney pain are stupid. Every experience and every person is different, so let's just agree on "this is big pain" and "big pain is bad" and leave it there. So much of what I found online was just this debate over and over again.


My experience was as if I had a very heavy dense ball inside my lower back. This caused waves of severe pain and the desire to go to the toilet (which did not help the symptoms). The pain waves lasted a couple mins each but felt a lot longer. The ambulance arrived and during the trip to the local hospital (<10 mins), I emptied the entinox gas cylinder with only minor relief gained. The A&E (ER) unit sorted it out with some heavy duty iv painkillers.

The ultrasonics can break the larger stones but this effects a certain volume. So if you miss or the stone is smaller, then the ultrasonics can damage the surrounding kidney tissue. I had other stones which were confirmed by X-ray but too small to target effectively.

The advice I got from a number of medics, drink > 2 litres of liquid per day (Any liquid). If the urine is still coloured after the first piss of the day, then drink some more. Other than that, there was no confirmed list of things to avoid.

The first time was the worse as you don’t know WTF is going on. After that, I keep my hydration up, carry good painkillers and know when to get to hospital if required.

I agree that the pain debate is pointless, we’re all different.


They should be renamed to kidney pearls.




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