Kidney stones are a very common renal disorder that affects around 12% of men and 6% of women in the global population. Also termed as renal calculi or urolithiasis, the condition leads to hard mineral and salt deposits in the kidney.
These solid masses of mineral crystals are generally formed in the kidneys. Still, they can also originate in other parts of the urinary tract, including the ureters, urinary bladder, or urethra. They also vary in shape and size and are responsible for causing acute pain, especially in the abdomen or during urination
Experiencing pain, nausea, abdominal discomfort, and pain during urination isn’t normal. These are symptoms that depict an underlying complication, possibly kidney stones too. Since this is a progressive disease, we highly urge you to not take the signs for granted. Instead, get tested as per your doctor’s advice. Ultrasound imaging is the best way to get a diagnosis. So, get one before things get out of control.
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This article will explore everything about kidney stones, the symptoms, causes, and effective treatment options.
In this Article
What are Kidney Stones Made of?
As we mentioned before, kidney stones are generally mineral and salt deposits. However, not every kidney stone in your body has the same composition. Some contain an appropriate mix of minerals, while a few others are made of a single type of mineral or salt.
Some of the most common types of crystals that cause kidney stones are
This accounts for the majority of the types of kidney stones formed in the majority population. Most of them are composed of calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, or calcium maleate.
Although it is quite an oxymoron, studies suggest that consuming foods rich in calcium oxalate contributes to risks of kidney stones. At the same time, eating a healthy amount of calcium prevents the chances of kidney stones.
You have to cut down the consumption of oxalate-rich foods, including chocolate, spinach, peanuts, etc.
Another common type of compound that contributes to the solid deposition leading to formation of kidney stones is uric acid. They are often formed due to major metabolic disorders like diabetes, gout, etc.
Individuals with a highly acidic urine output are at risk of developing kidney stones due to excess purine in their bodies. Eating a diet with less purine-rich foods can exponentially reduce the chances of forming uric acid kidney stones.
Kidney stones made of struvite are scarce and are commonly witnessed in patients with a high recurrence rate of urinary tract infections (UTIs). A patient diagnosed with struvite kidney stones are often at risk of experiencing blockage in the urinary tract, leading to issues with renal function.
Struvite kidney stones also indicate an active renal infection, requiring immediate medical intervention.
Hands down, one of the most uncommon kidney stones is the cystine kidney stone. This affects 1 in 7000 people and often stems from a genetic disorder, known as cystinuria.
Patients diagnosed with cystine stones in their body have cystine (a type of acid) in their urine, leading to stones in the urinary tract.
What are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
If you ask most patients diagnosed with kidney stones about the symptoms, the first answer would be severe pain and abdominal discomfort. Those are hands down two of the most common complaints that appear as initial symptoms in the majority population.
However, remember that a kidney stone localized in your kidney doesn’t inflict any symptoms. Only when it is jostled around in the renal anatomy is when a patient starts experiencing pain.
Larger kidney stones often obstruct the urinary tract, lodging themselves in the ureter and blocking normal urination. This leads to pressure on the kidneys and the associated renal structures that cause a lot of pain and discomfort.
That aside, some of the most potent kidney stones symptoms worth monitoring are:
- Feeling a sharp pain in the side of the abdomen and the back
- Descending pain that travels down the lower abdomen and groin region
- Burning sensation while urinating
- Change in urine color
- Extremely foul-smelling urine
- Cloudy urine
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills (if there is a kidney infection)
Some patients often feel sporadic pain in the abdomen, especially a pain that fluctuates and comes in waves. Initial symptoms of kidney stones are extremely painful, irrespective of the size of the stone. However, you might have to get immediate medical intervention if:
- You experience kidney stone pain that doesn’t go away even when you are in a resting position
- You are experiencing signs of nausea and vomiting
- You are witnessing blood in your urine
- You haven’t urinated in a long time or have a hard time urinating
Never take any of the symptoms for granted, especially because kidney stones can get worse if correct treatment isn’t administered following the initial diagnosis.
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What Causes Kidney Stones?
We discussed the different kidney stones at the beginning of the article. But, have you ever wondered about the causes of kidney stones causes? Why does it happen? Is it just a dietary complication that contributes to the issue?
Research suggests that there is no single factor that contributes to the risks of kidney stones. Instead, it is a mix of risk factors, dietary habits, and the prevalence of the minerals that contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
Individuals between the age of 20-50 are often at the highest risk of developing kidney stones.
Additionally, men are a higher chance of kidney stones compared to women.
Some of the most common kidney stone causes are:
Having a personal (or family) medical history of kidney stones
If you have a family history of kidney stones, there are higher risks of you having one at one point in life. Also, if you were previously diagnosed with kidney stones, the chances of recurrence are pretty high in that case as well.
Since kidney stones are generally formed from the crystallization process of the minerals and salts in the kidneys, lack of hydration in the body elevates the risks even further. Especially, if you live in countries with a humid or dry climate with prolonged sunshine that leads to excessive sweating can lead to complications of kidney stones.
A diet rich in unhealthy fats, oxalate-rich foods, salts, sugar, and protein contributes to the risk of kidney stones exponentially. Eating a sodium-rich diet often triggers the kidney to filter more calcium out of the kidneys, leading to risks of stones.
A person who is overweight or obese is at more risk of developing kidney stones as opposed to someone who has a healthy BMI. If you are confused about why it has direct relations with insulin resistance in the body. Obese or overweight individuals are at risk of insulin resistance, which contributes to metabolic disorders and the formation of kidney stones.
Kidney stones are a very common consequence in patients who have recently undergone gastric bypass surgery.
Additionally, the prevalence of kidney stones is exponentially high in patients who suffer from chronic digestive issues like inflammatory bowel syndrome, chronic diarrhea, etc.
Medication caused side effects
Some medicines and supplements often impose risks of kidney stones as a side effect. Excess consumption of laxatives, Vitamin C supplements, calcium-based antacids, migraine medications, etc. enhance the risks of kidney stones in the body.
How are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
When you visit your doctor with the symptoms, their first instinct would be to clarify any possible medical history associated with kidney stones. Once they have a full rundown of the symptoms, they will move on to further diagnostic testing to confirm their suspicions.
Some of the easiest modes of kidney stones diagnosis include:
- Blood tests – if your doctor suspects kidney stones, they will prescribe a routine blood test to measure the levels of calcium and uric acid in the blood. Additionally, they might also prescribe a kidney function test to analyze the state of the kidneys and how they are functioning. Blood tests for blood urea nitrogen (BUN) and creatinine levels will also be prescribed.
- Urine tests – one of the most definitive ways to diagnose a kidney stone is by conducting a regular urine test and urine culture. The 24-hour urine collection test also monitors the urine’s composition to check for elevated levels of the minerals and salts that contribute to kidney stone formation.
- Imaging tests – the symptoms of kidney stones are often similar to other abdominal and renal disorders. So, your doctor will most likely prescribe an abdominal ultrasound imaging or a CT scan to check for the complications and prevalence of stones in the urinary tract.
- Monitoring passed stones – when you are diagnosed with kidney stones, you will (at some point) pass a few smaller-sized stones during urination. It is very common but extremely painful. Your doctor might ask you to store your urine to analyze the composition of the stones that have formed in the kidneys.
If you have larger kidney stones in the body that require surgical interventions, they will also contribute to the risk of forming obstructions in the urinary tract. In such cases, your doctor will prescribe a few of the following tests:
- Abdominal X-rays
- Intravenous pyelogram
- Retrograde pyelogram
- MRI scan of the abdomen
Depending on the reports and comprehensive analysis of the type of kidney stone, your doctor will then move on to the treatment options.
How are Kidney Stones Treated?
The kidney stones treatment typically depends on the size of the stones present in the body. In most cases, if the stones are small in diameter (and/or powder-like), your doctor will ask you to pass them through the urine by drinking excess water.
However, for larger kidney stones, the patients might need to consider other treatment options other than passing them or simple medications. We will discuss them in detail down below:
|Small Kidney Stones Treatment|
|Treatment Option||How it helps?|
|Drinking water||Smaller kidney stones can be passed through urine. So, your doctor will advise drinking up to 3-4 liters of water to increase the frequency of urine and pass as many kidney stones with the urine.|
|Pain relievers||Analgesics are commonly prescribed to reduce the abdominal pain and discomfort that comes with passing a kidney stone through urine.|
|Alpha-blockers||This is a form of medical therapy wherein the administration of alpha-blockers relaxes the muscles of the ureters, helping with a more comfortable passing of the kidney stone instead of inflicting a lot of pain.|
|Larger Kidney Stones Treatment|
|Treatment Options||How they help?|
|Sound waves||Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy or ESWL is a treatment that used sound waves to break down the larger kidney stones into smaller sizes, so they can be passed through the urine.|
|Surgery||If the kidney stones are extremely large, surgical intervention is the only way to extract and remove the kidney stones from the body. The procedure is known as percutaneous nephrolithotomy.|
|Ureteroscope||The ureteroscope is a thin, lighted tube that has a camera attached at one end. It is inserted through the urethra into the ureter to remove any smaller kidney stones present in the urinary tract.|
|Parathyroid gland surgery||For patients who experience the prevalence of kidney stones due to parathyroid complications, a parathyroid gland surgery might be ideal to excise the overactive parathyroid gland.|
What kind of treatment you’d need depends on the cause, type, and size of the kidney stones. So, ensure that you get a comprehensive diagnosis, followed by a detailed understanding of the involved treatment routine.
How can one Prevent Kidney Stones?
The easiest and likely the only way to prevent risks of kidney stones is by introducing tangible lifestyle changes. Some of them are:
- If you have a habit of staying dehydrated throughout the day, ensure that you drink enough water throughout the day. Ideally, drinking a minimum of 2 liters of water is considered ideal.
- Reduce the consumption of oxalate-rich foods, including nuts, teas, leafy greens like spinach, Swiss chard, etc. These are some of the best foods to avoid kidney stones.
- Switch to a diet low in salt, and protein-rich foods, both from protein and non-animal proteins.
- Don’t cut out the calcium-rich foods completely, but at the same time, get rid of calcium supplements from the diet. Several calcium supplements are found to contribute to the risks of kidney stones in the body.
If your doctor thinks your diet is a major contributing factor, your doctor might refer you to a dietician to get your eating habits back on track.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the warning signs of kidney stones?
Some of the most common warning signs of kidney stones are experiencing excruciating pain and discomfort in the abdomen and pain during urinating.
Is a kidney stone serious?
Kidney stones, although quite common, are a serious disorder that needs medical interventions. You need to see a urologist and get the prescribed tests to get a confirmed diagnosis and treatment to overcome the complications.
How long do kidney stones last?
The duration of kidney stones varies from one patient to the other. It generally depends on the number of stones, the size of the stones, and how the patient is responding to the administered treatments.
Being diagnosed with kidney stones can be an extremely painful experience. However, there are several invasive and non-invasive treatment options that can effectively treat the condition and ensure complete recovery. If you are experiencing any notable symptoms, don’t take them lightly. Instead, focus on getting timely help from your doctor before the condition leads to obstructions in the urinary tracts and increases the severity of pain and discomfort.