Kidney stones are solid masses made of salts and minerals that form on the inner lining of the kidneys. They’re usually composed of calcium oxalate but may also consist of numerous other compounds. They usually start from the size of a sugar crystal and can grow into the size of a ping pong ball while maintaining a crystalline, sharp structure. Unless they cause a blockage, kidney stones are rarely noticed. Although they originate in the kidneys, they can develop along your urinary tract, including kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Kidney stones are known to be one of the most painful medical conditions. Even when the stones are small and generally unnoticeable, passing a kidney stone can be extremely painful. However, the stones usually cause no permanent damage if they’re treated early on.
The stones form when your urine has more crystal-forming substances than the fluid in your urine can dilute, but it lacks substances that can prevent the crystal from sticking together. The causes of kidney stones can vary depending on the type of stone. Knowing the type of kidney stones may give you clues on what you can do to reduce your risk of getting more. Try to save your kidney stone when you pass one so your doctor can analyze it. The types include:
- Calcium stones. These are the most common types of kidney stones, which usually made of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is a natural substance present in food. Your liver also made this substance daily. Some vegetables and fruits have a high content of oxalate. The concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine can also be increased by high doses of vitamin D, dietary factors, intestinal bypass surgery, as well as several metabolic disorders. Calcium stones can also be made of calcium phosphate, which is more common in people with metabolic conditions.
- Uric acid stones. This type of stone often forms in people who do not drink enough fluid or lose too much fluid. It can also form in people who have gout, those going through chemotherapy, or those who consume a high-protein diet. This type of stone develops when your urine is too acidic. They are more common in men than in women.
- Struvite. Struvite stones are common in women with urinary tract infections as they form in response to an infection. The stones can grow at a rapid pace and become large without any symptoms or warnings.
- Cystine stones. This is the rarest type of kidney stones that form in people with a hereditary disorder, cystinuria. Cystine stones form when cysteine, an acid that occurs naturally in your body, leaks from your kidneys into the urine.
Although the causes can be different depending on the type of stones, several factors will make you more likely to develop kidney stones. These risk factors are:
- Dehydration, when you don’t drink enough water or you drink less than at least eight glasses a day, your risk of kidney stones is a lot higher. Water can dilute uric acid. When there’s not enough water, the urine becomes more acidic.
- Family history, if a family member has kidney stones, your chance of developing stones is high.
- Obesity, high body mass index (BMI), weight gain, and large waist size have been strongly linked to a higher risk of kidney stones.
- Certain diets, such as a diet that’s high in protein, sugar, and sodium (salt). This is particularly true if you consume a high-sodium diet as too much salt increase the amount of calcium your kidneys need to filter.
- Digestive diseases and digestive surgeries, such as inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, and gastric bypass surgery, can change your digestive process and affect your absorption of water and calcium. When that happen, the levels of stone-storming substances in your urine is increased
- Other medical conditions, including hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, and some urinary tract infections can increase your risk.
Kidney stones are known to cause extreme pain; however, the symptoms may not occur until the stone moves around within the kidney or passes into the ureter. The severe pain is known as renal colic. The pain usually affects one side of your back of the abdomen. In men, the pain can also radiate to the groin area. The pain can be intense, but they come and go. Other symptoms of kidney stones usually include the following:
- Pain when urinating
- Brown, red, or pink urine
- Foul-smelling or cloudy urine
- Frequent and persistent need to urinate
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
- Urinating small amounts of urine
If you have any symptoms that worry you, you will need to seek immediate medical attention, especially when you find blood in your urine, severe pain that you can’t sit still, as well as pain with nausea and vomiting.
The treatment of kidney stones depends on the type of stone. For evaluation, your doctor may strain urine and collect the stones. If you have small stones and minimal symptoms, the treatment generally doesn’t require any invasive treatment. Your doctor may ask you to drink water around 1.9 to 2.8 liters per day to help flush out your system, take pain relievers to relieve mild pain, and medication to help pass your kidney stones. However, some kidney stones can’t be treated with conservative measures, particularly when they’re too large or cause bleeding, ongoing urinary tract infections, and kidney damage. For these kinds of kidney stones, your doctor may recommend you to undergo the following procedures:
- Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is a non-invasive treatment that uses sound waves to break up large stones into tiny pieces. This procedure is aimed to allow the stone to pass down the ureters into your bladder more easily.
- Removal of kidney stones surgery is done if ESWL was unsuccessful. The surgery is known as percutaneous nephrolithotomy, which involves small telescopes and instruments to remove a kidney stone through a small incision in the back.
- Ureteroscopy is a surgery that uses a scope to remove stones. Your surgeon passes a thin tube with a camera through the urethra and bladder to your ureter.