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What is Hyperoxaluria?

By D. Jeffress
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Hyperoxaluria is a chronic medical condition in which a person has an unusually high concentration of a salt called oxalate in his or her urine. Excess oxalate tends to build up in the kidneys and can result in the formation of kidney stones. Hyperoxaluria can be an inherited genetic disorder or a result of a diet overly rich in oxalate. An individual who has symptoms including decreased urine output, nausea, and fatigue should see a doctor as soon as possible to be screened for hyperoxaluria and avoid dangerous complications.

Normally, oxalate found in foods is ingested, processed by the liver, and excreted as waste by the kidneys. A person with hyperoxaluria is unable to properly break down oxalate, leading to an overabundance of the salt in the kidneys and urinary tract. The excess oxalate then binds with calcium to form insoluble crystals called kidney stones. Once stones start to develop, an individual is likely to experience painful, infrequent urination, frequent episodes of nausea and vomiting, and a general feeling of fatigue and weakness. Without treatment, kidney stones can cause severe blockages and lead to abdominal pain, kidney inflammation, and eventual renal failure.

Most cases of hyperoxaluria are the result of specific genetic mutations that inhibit the production of certain liver enzymes, rendering the liver incapable of breaking down oxalate. The condition can also arise if there is simply too much oxalate in a person's diet. Foods such as chocolate, nuts, and leafy greens contain high levels of oxalate, and eating too much of such foods can overwhelm the liver and kidneys. In addition, gastrointestinal disorders can occasionally prevent oxalate from being properly broken down and expelled.

A person who believes he or she may be suffering from hyperoxaluria should schedule an appointment with a primary care physician to receive an evaluation and learn about treatment options. A doctor can analyze urine and blood samples to check for abnormal levels of salts and minerals. In addition, he or she may conduct an ultrasound or computerized tomography scan to look for signs of kidney stones. A patient may be referred to a kidney specialist to perform additional tests and confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment for hyperoxaluria depends on the underlying causes. Dietary conditions are typically the easiest to treat, and patients are instructed to avoid oxalate-rich foods and drink cranberry juice and water to cleanse the kidneys. Patients with genetic hyperoxaluria are usually prescribed a medication that helps the body control oxalate levels. If the condition has progressed enough that kidney failure is likely, an individual may need to undergo a kidney and liver transplantation to avoid life-threatening problems. Most people are able to experience full recoveries after receiving the proper treatment and following their doctors' orders.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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