Kidney Stones: Types, Symptoms, Treatment

Overview

Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi, refer to solid masses made of crystals that can cause blood in the urine and severe pain. Usually, they originate in your kidneys, but they can also develop in other parts along the urinary tract, such as ureters, bladder and urethra. Nephrolithiasis is the medical term for the condition of having kidney stones.

It is estimated that 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. The lifetime risk of kidney stones is about 19% in men and 9% in women. In men, the first episode is most likely to occur after age 30, but it can occur earlier.

Types & Causes

There exists no definite, single cause for kidney stones. The causes of them may vary according to their types. Based on the crystal type of the stone, kidney stones can be divided into:

  • Calcium stones

Calcium stones are the most common type of kidney stones. About 80% of patients with kidney stones fall into this category. They’re often made of calcium oxalate. Sometimes, they can consist of calcium phosphate or maleate.

The main cause of calcium stones is diet, more specifically, eating too much high-oxalate foods, including potato chips, peanuts, chocolate, beets and spinach.

  • Uric acid stones

This type of kidney stone is more common in men than in women. Having gout or receiving chemotherapy may put you at higher risk of developing uric acid stones. A diet rich in purines can increase urine’s acidic level. Purine are more common in foods like fish, shellfish and meats.

  • Struvite stones

These stones are less common and are caused by infections in the upper urinary tract. Women with urinary tract infections (UTIs) are more likely to get them.

  • Cystine Stones

Cystine stones are rare and tend to run in families with cystinuria. In this condition, cystine, an acid that occurs naturally in the body, leaks from the kidneys into the urine.

Other risk factors for developing kidney stones include:

  • Medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes
  • Obesity
  • People between 20 and 50 years old
  • Being a man rather a woman
  • Dehydration
  • Taking medications such as triamterene, diuretics, antiseizure drugs, and calcium-based antacids
  • People who have a family member with kidney stones
  • Digestive diseases and surgery, involving gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease or chronic diarrhea

Symptoms

Some kidney stones are as small as a grain of sand. Others are as large as a pebble. A few can grow as large as a golf ball. Generally, the larger the stone, the more noticeable are the signs and symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back or in the abdomen
  • More vague pain or stomach ache that may come and go
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Small amounts of urine
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Chills

If the kidney stone in your body is small, you may not have any pain or symptoms as the stone passes through your urinary tract.

Diagnosis

Diagnosing kidney stones needs a complete medical history assessment and a physical exam. Lab tests that can help doctors confirm the diagnosis include:

  • Blood tests to check calcium, phosphorus, uric acid, and electrolytes
  • Urinalysis to check for crystals, bacteria, blood, and white cells
  • Analysis of passed stones to determine their type

Furthermore, imaging tests can help show kidney stones and rule out other conditions causing similar symptoms, such as ultrasound of the kidney, which is the preferred test, abdominal X-rays and CT scan, MRI scan of the abdomen and kidneys, as well as intravenous pyelogram (IVP) and retrograde pyelogram.

Treatment

Treatment options for kidney stones can be different depending on the specific type. Drinking enough water, about 6-8 glasses a day, is an important and effective method to increase urine flow. People who are dehydrated or have severe nausea and vomiting may need intravenous fluids.

Medications that can help relieve the symptoms of kidney stones include:

If medications don’t work and your kidney stones cause severe pain, you may need surgeries. These procedures may include:

  • Using sound waves to break up large stones, also called lithotripsy, so that they can more easily pass down the ureters into your bladder
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy, meaning removing a kidney stone using small telescopes and instruments inserted through a small incision in your back
  • Ureteroscope, a thin lighted tube, to remove a smaller stone in your ureter or kidney

To prevent kidney stones, you should change your lifestyles, for example, drinking more water and choosing a diet low in oxalate, salt and animal protein. Medications can also help control the amount of minerals and salts in your urine and may be helpful in people who form certain kinds of stones.


Keyword: kidney stones.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.