Virginia sits in the ‘stonebelt’ when it comes to kidney stones

RICHMOND, Va. -- Cassie Marshall has battled kidney stones since she was a teenager. She said the constant fatigue and pain have kept her from work and enjoying daily activities.

"I have a really bad habit of just ignoring it and pushing through when it gets bad," Marshall, 29, said. "It's completely debilitating and I can't do much."

Marshall recently opted for a more invasive surgery to remove the stones via an incision in her back. She said she believed her vegan diet may have made her stones more problematic.

"I thought I was doing really good, but the diet I was on was actually a catalyst for my kidney stones getting so big," Marshall said.

Marshall isn't alone, medical trends show more women, and even younger people, are getting kidney stones.

Statistically, Virginia ranked as one of the worst states for developing them. Research points to environmental factors, such as heat and humidity.

Dr. Michael Byrne, a urologist who practices at Richmond's Retreat Hospital, said the southeast is known as the "stonebelt." He also said studies proved more women are developing kidney stones.

"Men were typically more prevalent than women, but recently the numbers are coming closer to even," Dr. Byrne said.

Byrne performs several surgeries a week at Retreat Hospital, a medical facility known for handling more complicated kidney stone cases.

"At Retreat Hospital, we get referrals from all over the state," Byrne said.

Physicians are seeing a link between certain diets and kidney stones, including fast food diets, high protein diets, or diets rich in too many greens or nuts. Ironically, several foods that are recommended for healthy living, can lead to painful kidney stones.

"Some of the healthiest foods we eat like spinach, kale, and nuts- when eaten in excess- it can lead to kidney stone formation," Byrne said.

Physicians recommend letting kidney stones pass naturally when possible. Drinking large amounts of water, at least two liters a day, can aid the body in naturally disposing stones. Water can also help prevent stones from forming. Doctors said to avoid drinks loaded with sugar, especially soft drinks.

Fortunately, there are increased treatment options for patients, when kidney stones become too large or extremely uncomfortable.

Physicians can use sound waves or lasers to help break up large stones. Most cases involve putting the patient to sleep and entering the body through the urethra. More invasive procedures, involve cutting open the kidneys.

Byrne said physicians and patients can decide best treatment options together.

"It should be patient driven," Byrne said. "Patients should be able to be informed well enough and make a decision."

Cassie Marshall hopes her problems with kidney stones become less frequent after surgery.

"I'm just hoping we can figure out a diet and potentially a medication," Marshall said.

She hopes to return to work soon, and enjoying her health.

Working For Your Health is a partnership with HCA Healthcare. Serving the greater Richmond area, Chippenham, Henrico Doctors’, Johnston-Willis, Parham Doctors’, and Retreat Doctors’ Hospital are part of HCA Virginia. Watch for Working For Your Health reports Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 7 p.m.

Watch for Working For Your Health reports on CBS 6.

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