Kidney Stones

One of the most common urological disorders, kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals that form inside the kidneys, and pass painfully through the urinary tract during urination. There are over 1 million new cases of stones disease in America each year, with as many as 1 in 10 Americans guessed to be affected by kidney stones over their lifetimes.

Causes

Kidney stones occur when your urine can’t dilute sources that could crystallize and turn into stones, such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid. Dehydration and diet are certainly a factor, as the presence of high amounts of sodium or protein might cause more stones to form with a lack of fluid to keep them from dissolving. There is also a link between obesity and kidney stones.

In addition to dietary factors, kidney stones may be genetic. If someone in your family is a stone former, the chances are more likely that you will form a stone in your lifetime as well. Certain medical conditions can also create kidney stones, including obstructions in the urinary tract or gastrointestinal disorders.

Symptoms

Symptoms for kidney stones change in location and intensity as the stone moves around through your urinary tract. The following are the most common symptoms for kidney stones:

  • Back pain, or pain in the sides or below the ribs
  • Pain that moves through the lower abdomen or groin
  • Pain during urination
  • Colored urine - pink, red or brown
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Frequent urination
  • Fever and chills in the event of an infection

Testing

CT scans and X-rays are both effective tools to test for kidney stones. Because of their imaging techniques, these procedures can help diagnose not only the location of a particular kidney stone, but its size as well. Blood tests and urine tests may also be ordered, to check for high amounts of calcium or uric acid, as well as the presence of too many stone-forming minerals or a lack of stone-dissolving substances.

Treatment

Part of treating kidney stones is ongoing prevention--once you’ve formed stones, your chances are high that you’ll have another one in your lifetime. The key is drinking plenty of water, as well as determining the cause with your doctor of the stones in the first place. This can be done through a 24-hour urine analysis after a stone has passed, as well as an examination of the stone itself.

In terms of treatment, most small stones can be passed by drinking lots of water, and may require some pain relievers to alleviate discomfort. Large or oddly shaped stones that will be too difficult or potentially harmful to pass require other procedures, including:

  • Shock Wave Lithotripsy, which uses sound waves to break apart large stones.
  • Surgery, known as percutaneous nephrolithotomy, which involves a small incision in the back to remove large stones.
  • An ureteroscope, a small scope equipped with a camera that is inserted into the urethra. This scope can help break apart or capture stones for passing.
  • Parathyroid gland surgery, in the event that calcium deposits are caused by overactive thyroid glands.

If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of kidney stones, please consult your healthcare provider. To read more about kidney stones online, please visit Urology Care Foundation.