Kidney stones can be formed as the kidneys filter waste from the blood and create urine. Sometimes, salts and other minerals in urine stick together to form small stones. These range from the size of a sugar crystal to a ping pong ball, but they are rarely noticed unless they cause a blockage. They may cause intense pain if they break loose and push into the ureters, the narrow ducts leading to the bladder.
If you have sudden, severe pain in the back or belly, it’s best to seek medical care right away. Abdominal pain is associated with many other conditions, including emergencies like appendicitis and ectopic pregnancy. Painful urination is also a common symptom of a urinary tract infection
Kidney Stones: Symptoms
When kidney stones move through the urinary tract, they may cause:
- Severe pain in the back, belly, or groin
- Frequent or painful urination
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
Small stones may pass without causing symptoms.
Kidney Stones: Diagnosis
Kidney stones are rarely diagnosed before they begin causing pain. This pain is often severe enough to send patients to the ER, where a variety of tests can uncover the stones. These may include a CT scan, X-rays, ultrasound, and urinalysis. Blood tests can help look for high levels of minerals involved in forming kidney stones.
Kidney Stones: Sizes Can Vary
The smaller the kidney stone, the more likely it will pass on its own. If it is smaller than 5 mm (1/5 inch), there is a 90% chance it will pass without further intervention. Between 5 mm and 10 mm, the odds are 50%. If a stone is too large to pass on its own, several treatment options are available.
Kidney Stones: Treating With Meds
There are prescription medications that can help the body pass a kidney stone. Drugs known as alpha-blockers relax the walls of the ureter. This widens the passages so a stone can fit through more easily. Side effects are generally mild and may include headache or dizziness. Other types of medications can help prevent new stones from forming.
Kidney Stones: Shock Wave Therapy
The most common medical procedure for treating kidney stones is known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). This therapy uses high-energy shock waves to break a kidney stone into little pieces. The small pieces can then move through the urinary tract more easily. Side effects can include bleeding, bruising, or pain after the procedure.
Kidney Stones: Ureteroscopy
When a stone has made its way out of the kidney and is close to the bladder, the most common procedure is ureteroscopy. A thin tube is passed through the urinary tract to the location of the stone. A surgeon breaks up the stone and removes the fragments through the tube. No incisions are made in the body. For very large stones, surgical procedures may be needed.
Kidney Stones Analysis
Once a kidney stone has passed or been removed, your doctor may want to know what it’s made of. Nearly 80% of kidney stones are calcium-based. The remainder are made primarily of uric acid, struvite, or cystine. A chemical analysis can determine which type of stone you have. Once you know, you can take steps to prevent new ones from forming in the future.
Kidney Stones: Causes
Stones may form when there’s a change in the normal balance of the water, salts, and minerals found in urine. Different kinds of changes result in different types of kidney stones. There are many factors that can trigger changes in the urine, ranging from chronic medical conditions to what you eat and drink.
Kidney Stones: Risk Factors
Drinking too little water is the most common cause of kidney stones. Diet also plays an important role. Eating a lot of protein, sodium, and high-oxalate foods, such as chocolate or dark green vegetables, can boost the risk for kidney stones in some people. Other risk factors include gaining weight and taking certain medications.
Kidney Stones: More Risk Factors
White men have a greater risk for kidney stones than other groups, starting in the 40s. Women see their risk rise in the 50s. And your odds also go up if you have a family history of kidney stones. Certain medical conditions can boost the risk such as high blood pressure, gout, and urinary tract infections.
Kidney Stones: Prevention
If you had a calcium stone, your doctor may suggest cutting back on salt and sodium. You may also be advised to avoid chocolate, instant coffee, tea, beans, berries, dark leafy greens, oranges, tofu, and sweet potatoes. The best way to ward off new kidney stones is to drink enough water to keep urine clear.
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