Pain, the great leveller, had Shakespeare say, “There was never yet philosopher that could endure the toothache patiently”. Like toothache, kidney stones inflict one of the least bearable kinds of pain – to do with their beautiful sharp facets made of calcium oxalate crystal (pictured) that lacerate the urinary tract on their way out. Sufferers would swap gold for relief, but there is no ready remedy for dislodging stones from kidneys – where they form millimetre-sized slivers like limescale in kettles – short of surgery or ultrasound to crush them when they grow too big to pass in urine. Drinking too little water, obesity, high protein and sugar diets, and being male with a family history of kidney stones, increase your chances of getting them. But relief is on the horizon with drugs that normally treat leukaemia and epilepsy, which researchers found can also trick kidneys into dissolving the stones.
Written by Tristan Farrow