In this article we will take a look at:
- What are kidney stones?
- What are the causes of kidney stones or how do kidney stones occur?
- What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
- What are the complications of kidney stones?
- How are kidney stones diagnosed?
- What is the treatment for kidney stones?
- Related Topics
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What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones, as the name itself suggests, are stones that form in the kidneys and can be as tiny as a speck of dust, or as big as the size of a tennis ball. Apart from the kidneys, the stones can also form anywhere along the urinary tract which includes the ureter, bladder, and urethra.
What are the causes of kidney stones or how do kidney stones occur?
After your body absorbs the nutrition it needs, the remaining waste products travel through the bloodstream to the kidneys. The waste products get removed from your body through urine. When there is too much of waste and too less liquid in the urine, crystals begin to form which stick together and form solid masses or kidney stones. The reasons of kidney stones forming in the body varies.
There are four main types of kidney stones:
- Calcium Stones: Calcium stones are the most common form of kidney stones. They are formed when there is too much calcium in the urine. They may form due to an overactive parathyroid gland, an inherited condition called hypercalciuria, kidney disease, some cancers, or a condition called sarcoidosis.
- Struvite Stones: These are horn-shaped and can grow quite large. They are usually caused by urinary tract infection.
- Uric Acid Stones: Uric acid stones are softer than other types of kidney stones. They may occur due to a high-protein low-fibre diet. Patients suffering from gout are found to be at a higher risk to get uric acid stones.
- Cystine Stones: They are caused by a rare hereditary disorder called cystinuria. Cystine stones are larger than other forms of kidney stones and tend to recur.
In about 85% of the cases, small kidney stones (<5 mm) pass out in the urine without medical intervention. Stones bigger than 5 mm may require medical intervention. Stones as small as 2 mm have been know to cause discomforting symptoms.
If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms of kidney stones, you should immediately consult your family doctor or a general physician, who in turn may refer you to a urologist if a kidney stone is suspected.
Who is prone to kidney stones?
Some people are at a higher risk of developing kidney stones. They include:
- people who do not drink enough water everyday (around 8 glasses per day)
- people with a family history of kidney stones
- people bed-bound due to illness
- people who lead a sedentary lifestyle
- people suffering from obesity
- people suffering from frequent urinary and kidney infections
- people who eat a high-protein diet and low-fibre diet
- people who consume of excessive sodium (salt)
- people with active medical conditions such as Crohn's disease , gout, renal tubular acidosis, hyperparathyroidism, medullary sponge kidney, type 2 diabetes, and Dent's disease
- people who excessively consume supplements such as calcium and vitamin C
What are the symptoms of kidney stones? How are kidney stones diagnosed?
The common symptoms of kidney stones in men and women include:
- Foul smelling urine
- Discoloured urine: pink, red, brown urine or blood in the urine
- Frequent and urgent need to urinate
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Shifting pain in the lower abdomen and groin
- Varying intensity of pain that comes and goes
Although the exact causes leading to the formation of the stones have not been established yet, a number of factors have been identified which increases the risk of kidney stones.
After getting to know your symptoms, medical history and after a complete examination, the urologist will suggest tests to confirm the diagnosis of kidney stones. The tests may include:
- A computerised tomography (CT) scan: where computerized low-intensity X-Ray images are taken from different angles and analysed.
- X-ray: which uses a low dose of electromagnetic radiation to accurately create images of the internal structures of your body. Radiolucent stones such as Cystine or uric acid stones may not be identified with this test.
- Ultrasound scan: Images of the internal structures of your body are recreated using high-frequency sound waves.
- Intravenous urogram (IVU) or intravenous pyelogram (IVP): In this procedure, a radio-opaque dye is injected through a vein in your arm. This dye highlights the presence of the stones on an X-ray. The dye later passes out of your body in the urine. It is advised that you inform the doctor about all your current medicines and allergies before undergoing this procedure. Before administering the dye though, your urologist will make sure that you are not allergic to it.
What are the complications of kidney stones?
Complications of kidney stones include:
- recurring kidney stones, since people who have had kidney stones at least once, have 80 % chance of getting them again.
- obstruction or blockage in the urinary tract
- kidney failure
- sepsis, which can occur after the treatment of a large kidney stone
- an injury to the ureter while undergoing a surgery for the removal of the kidney stone
- urinary tract infection
- severe pain
- heavy bleeding during kidney stones operation
What is the treatment for kidney stones?
The following treatments and procedures are available to manage kidney stones:
- Diet: Your doctor/dietician may prescribe you with a modified diet.
- Medications: Your doctor may prescribe medicines which can dissolve certain types of kidney stones. (ex. kidney stones formed of calcium or uric acid can be treated with medicines.)
Other medicines are also prescribed to relieve the symptoms of kidney stones which include:
- pain medicines
- muscles relaxants which assist the stones to pass through
- antibiotics to manage any infection
- Other medications to manage the underlying disease that is causing the kidney stone
Surgical procedures to remove kidney stones include:
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Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
One tenth of the population suffers from kidney stones
One out of every ten people will suffer from kidney stones in their life.
Kidney stone belt
The kidney stone belt region of world is located in countries of Middle East, North Africa, and Mediterranean region, North Western States of India, Southern States of United States of America and areas around the Great Lakes.
Prevalence of kidney stones in India
The prevalence of kidney stones in India is 15 % and approximately 5 to 7 million patients are suffering from this painful disease and related kidney problems. The occurrence of disease is high in the northern, north western and central part.
Ureteroscopy is a minimally invasive method of treating kidney stones, ureteroscopy is an endoscopic procedure, which helps the urologist to view the inside of your ureter. An instrument called ureteroscope is used for this purpose.
Percutaneous nephrolithotripsy is an inpatient invasive procedure in which the surgeon breaks and removes the kidney stone(s) through a small incision in the skin.
Open surgery for kidney stone removal is an invasive procedure performed under general anesthesia to remove kidney stones.