Not Your New Age Crystals 

I was perusing the Facebook Chronic Kidney Disease online support groups as I usually do in the morning when I ran across a post that caught my eye. The person posting wanted to know if he were going to die because he had crystals in his urine. I’d never thought about that before. He sounded really scared, so I decided to take a look at this condition.

First of all, some basic information from Study.com at https://bit.ly/34n3W6H:

“Crystals in the urine is known as crystalluria. Sometimes crystals are found in healthy people and other times they are indicators of organ dysfunction, the presence of urinary tract stones of a like composition (known as urolithiasis), or an infection in the urinary tract.”

Ummm, I wanted a bit more information so I turned to Healthline.com at https://www.healthline.com/health/urine-crystals.

“Crystals can be found in the urine of healthy individuals. They may be caused by minor issues like a slight excess of protein or vitamin C. Many types of urine crystals are relatively harmless.

In some cases, however, urine crystals can be indicators of a more serious underlying condition. Symptoms that would indicate a more serious condition could include:

  • fever
  • severe abdominal pain
  • blood in the urine
  • jaundice
  • Fatigue”

Serious conditions? What does that mean? The organ dysfunction Study.com mentioned? Which organs? Urolithiasis? An infection? Can you die from any of these?

Time to slow down. Since this is a Chronic Kidney Disease blog, let’s start with the kidneys.

“Crystal-induced acute kidney injury (AKI) is caused by the intratubular precipitation of crystals, which results in obstruction. Crystal-induced AKI most commonly occurs as a result of acute uric acid nephropathy and following the administration of drugs or toxins that are poorly soluble or have metabolites that are poorly soluble in urine …. Other drugs or medications may be metabolized to insoluble products such as oxalate (ethylene glycol, vitamin C), which are associated with precipitation of calcium oxalate crystals within tubular lumens and kidney injury.”

Thank you UptoDate.com at https://bit.ly/3j3BT0k for this information, although we’ll need some explanation in order to understand it. I get it that crystals can produce obstruction in the tubules (Wikipedia: The renal tubule is the portion of the nephron containing the tubular fluid filtered through the glomerulus), rather than being passed out of the body in the urine. It makes sense that if the crystals do produce obstruction, the urine may back up… right into the kidneys. That’s when you have the AKI. Remember, this in not chronic. The condition remains until it’s remedied, but it can be remedied.

What about urolithiasis? I must thank the National Kidney Foundation at https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/hydronephrosis for their easily understood information about a condition called hydronephrosis which will explain how both urolithiasis and/or an infection would affect your kidneys.

“Hydronephrosis is the swelling of a kidney due to a build-up of urine. It happens when urine cannot drain out from the kidney to the bladder from a blockage or obstruction. (Gail here: such as the blockage caused by crystals which results in AKI.) Hydronephrosis can occur in one or both kidneys.

The main function of the urinary tract is to remove wastes and fluid from the body. The urinary tract has four parts: the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder and urethra. The urine is formed when the kidneys filter blood and remove excess waste materials and fluid. Urine collects into a part of the kidney called the renal pelvis. From the renal pelvis, the urine travels down a narrow tube called the ureter into the bladder. The bladder slowly fills up with urine, which empties from the body through another small tube called the urethra. Hydronephrosis occurs when there is either a blockage of the outflow of urine, or reverse flow of urine already in the bladder (called reflux) that can cause the renal pelvis to become enlarged.

Hydronephrosis may or may not cause symptoms. The main symptom is pain, either in the side and back (known as flank pain), abdomen or groin. Other symptoms can include pain during urination, other problems with urination (increased urge or frequency, incomplete urination, incontinence), nausea and fever. These symptoms depend on the cause and severity of urinary blockage.

How is Hydronephrosis Caused?
Hydronephrosis is usually caused by another underlying illness or risk factor. Causes of hydronephrosis include, but are not limited to, the following illnesses or risk factors:

  • Kidney stone
  • Congenital blockage (a defect that is present at birth)
  • Blood clot
  • Scarring of tissue (from injury or previous surgery)
  • Tumor or cancer (examples include bladder, cervical, colon, or prostate)
  • Enlarged prostate (noncancerous)
  • Pregnancy
  • Urinary tract infection (or other diseases that cause inflammation of the urinary tract)”

Kidney stones? MedicalNewsToday at https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154193 helped us out with that one:

“Kidney stones are the result of a buildup of dissolved minerals on the inner lining of the kidneys.

They usually consist of calcium oxalate but may be composed of several other compounds.

Kidney stones can grow to the size of a golf ball while maintaining a sharp, crystalline structure.

The stones may be small and pass unnoticed through the urinary tract, but they can also cause extreme pain as they leave the body.”

There is quite a bit more information about kidneys stones at this site. What we needed to know is that, again, it’s a buildup – as in not passed from the body via the urine – that causes kidney stones.

Will the person who posted the comment about crystals in his urine die, whether or not he develops symptoms? It seems to me that’s not necessary IF he seeks treatment and follows medical advice.

Back to Healthline, but this time at https://www.healthline.com/health/urine-crystals#prevention, for their take on this question:

“Urine crystals that aren’t caused by underlying conditions like liver disease or genetic conditions can often be prevented. In some cases, even crystalluria triggered by genetic causes can be reduced with lifestyle or diet changes.

The most effective way to prevent urine crystals is to drink more water and stay hydrated. This helps dilute the chemical concentrations in the urine, preventing crystals from forming.

You can also make certain changes in your diet. Your doctor can help you determine what changes to make based on the type of crystals that you have. They may recommend cutting back on protein, for example, or reducing foods high in oxalate (as is the case for calcium oxalate crystals).

Avoiding salty foods can also help prevent a number of different urine crystals, so eliminating processed foods can be beneficial.”

I’m going to add today’s blog to the things-I-never-knew part of my brain.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!

AKI & CKD

Aha! Dana contacted me and here’s the blog I promised him. (Still looking for the request from the woman who waited so patiently for me to recover from my surgery. Please contact me again.) Dana asked about AKI, Acute Kidney Injury, and how aggressively his nephrologist should be pursuing treatment of this. He and his nephrologist feel that his AKI may have been caused by strep.

I know I write about CKD, Chronic Kidney Disease, so what is AKI? The glossary in my very first CKD book, What Is It and How Did I Get It? Early Stage Chronic Kidney Disease, tells us ‘acute’ means:

“Extremely painful, severe or serious, quick onset, of short duration; the opposite of chronic.” This is what I wrote about AKI and CKD in SlowItDownCKD 2017,

“I’d always thought that AKI and CKD were separate issues and I’ll bet you did, too. But Dr. L.S. Chawla and his co-writers based the following conclusion on the labor of epidemiologists and others. (Note: Dr. Chawla et al wrote a review article in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2014.)

‘Chronic Kidney Disease is a risk factor for acute kidney injury, acute kidney injury is a risk factor for the development of Chronic Kidney Disease, and both acute kidney injury and Chronic Kidney Disease are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Not surprisingly, the risk factors for AKI {Once again, that’s acute kidney injury.} are the same as those for CKD… except for one peculiar circumstance. Having CKD itself can raise the risk of AKI 10 times.’

Whoa! If you’re Black, of an advanced age {Hey!}, or have diabetes, you already know you’re at risk for CKD, or are the one out of nine (Update: Now one out of seven.) in our country that has it. Once you’ve developed CKD, you’ve just raised the risk for AKI 10 times. I’m getting a little nervous here….

It makes sense, as researchers and doctors are beginning to see, that these are all connected. I’m not a doctor or a researcher, but I can understand that if you’ve had some kind of insult to your kidney, it would be more apt to develop CKD.

And the CVD risk? Let’s think of it this way. You’ve had AKI. That period of weakness in the kidneys opens them up to CKD. We already know there’s a connection between CKD and CVD (Cardiovascular Disease). Throw that AKI into the mix, and you have more of a chance to develop CVD whether or not you’ve had a problem in this area before. Let’s not go off the deep end here. If you’ve had AKI, you just need to be monitored to see if CKD develops and avoid nephrotoxic {Kidney poisoning} medications such as NSAIDS… contrast dyes, and radioactive substances. This is just so circular!

As with CKD, your hypertension and diabetes {if you have them.} need to be monitored, too. Then there’s the renal diet, especially low sodium foods. The kicker here is that no one knows if this is helpful in avoiding CKD after an AKI… it’s a ‘just in case’ kind of thing to help ward off any CKD and possible CVD from the CKD.”

Dana’s nephrologist put him on a regiment of prednisone for two months. Why? Well, prednisone is an anti-inflammatory drug. WebMD at https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-is-acute-kidney-failure#1 offers the following as possible causes of AKI. Notice the very last one and you’ll see how prednisone may be helpful.

  1. Something is stopping blood flow to your kidneys. It could be because of:
  1. You have a condition that’s blocking urine from leaving your kidneys. This could mean:
  1. Something has directly damaged your kidneys, like:

Now we know AKI and Acute Kidney Failure are not the same thing, but it is possible that this nephrologist is using prednisone in an attempt to avoid Acute Kidney Failure.

One thing Dana asked that made me stop cold is “How do you cope with the inevitable aspects?” They are not inevitable, Dana. I am a lay person who has managed to keep my CKD at stage 3 for 11 years. I am also not a magician. What I am is someone who follows the guidelines for keeping my kidneys as healthy as possible.

You’ve already seen a nutritionist – hopefully a renal nutritionist, since a healthy diet is not necessarily a renal healthy diet – so you’re aware of the nutrition aspect of protecting your kidneys. But there’s more. Do you smoke or drink? If so, stop. Do you exercise? If not, start… but with your nephrologist’s supervision. Are you getting adequate sleep and rest? Here’s the hardest guideline: try to avoid stress. Of course, if you have a stressful life, avoiding stress can just be another stress.

As to how aggressively you should expect your nephrologist to treat your AKI (or the CKD resulting from it) really depends upon you and your nephrologist. For example, some think stage 3 is barely CKD and urge you to just keep watch. Others, like my nephrologist, take CKD seriously and have their nutritionists train you re the renal diet and speak with you themselves about the guidelines. As for AKI, again it depends on you, your nephrologist, and the severity of the AKI. Since you have waste product buildup and inflammation, you may need dialysis or a hospital stay… or watchful waiting while taking a medication such as prednisone.’

There seems to be quite a lot of leeway as to the treatment you and your nephrologist decide upon.

Until next week,

Keep living your life!