Staghorn Kidney Stones

Kidney stones make the patient shudder at the thought of pain.  But if you think that kidney stones the size of peas could inflict such torture, imagine a stone far bigger and more intimidating in appearance – the struvite stone, otherwise known as the staghorn kidney stones.

Staghorn stones, as the name implies, are magnesium ammonium phospate stones that grow in size as large as a golf ball, with calyces on either side (like deer horns).  The shape is horn-like because these are upper-urinary tract stones; they usually form at the juncture where the bladder empties into the urethra.  Once they fully block the bladder, kidney failure is certain to follow.

Struvite calculi are formed in alkaline urine, and the stone formation is further aggravated by repeated and prolonged bacterial infection in the urinary tract.  Bacteria causes urea to form ammonium that results to increased pH levels of urine (the higher, the more alkaline).

Knowing how it is formed, it would be wise not to hold urine.  Urine staying too long in the bladder results to urinary tract infections; infections result to urine alkalinity; alkalinity results to stone formation.  This is one nature call you should never put off.

Because of the stone’s sheer size, the only way to remove it is through surgery.  Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL), where pulses of strong waves are directed at the stones, can be administered.  But by the time the stone has been diagnosed, it would have colonized the urinary tract to such extent that it is difficult to break the stones small enough to be passed through urine.  Quite ironically, staghorn stones present no symptoms in its early stages; when symptoms do appear, it is because the struvite stones have become large enough to impede normal kidney functioning.  Of all the types of kidney stones, staghorn stones lead to the highest rate of morbidity because of its tendency to grow out of tiny left-overs.

Care has to be observed when taking the stone out, as any remnant stone, no matter how small, could encourage growth of new formations, 85% of the time.  In fact, the sad news is, even with complete removal, recurrence occurs 10% of the time.  So anything less than extricating the stone might still put the patient at risk.

The incidence of staghorn stones is 1 out of 10 (who have stones) in the U.S., and 3 out of 10 worldwide.

Although diet will make very little dent when the staghorn stone has already colonized the urinary tract, it will help recovering patients avert future recurrence.  When urine pH levels are high, the diet should help acidify urine.  Kidney-friendly foods (for this type of stone) are milk, asparagus, cauliflower, cabbage, fresh green peas, guavas, pears, peaches, pineapples, papayas, pumpkin, squash, turnips, tomatoes, and watermelons.

All the health benefits of these foods will be cancelled out without adequate water intake.  Water is a great equalizer, and the same can be said about kidney stones, be it struvite or something less intimidating.  There is an age-old indigenous alternative to plain, boring water that people in Asia enjoy as summer treat.  Coconut water tastes better, and its chemical contents have been known to clear urinary pipe work no matter how big the stone.  In some daring operations (in the East), catheters are inserted into the urethra, and the stone is doused with coconut juice.  This softens the stones overtime, making them easy enough to be passed through urine.  This form of adjunctive therapy however, is yet to earn approval from urologists in the West, primarily because of (their perceived) lack of scientific documentation of the coconut water’s kidney-cleansing benefits.

Whether plain or coconut, water should always take precedence.  Filling yourself to the brim is way less painful than passing a stone the size of a small pebble.