Kidney Stones: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention
Do you have pain in your side that travels to your abdomen or groin? Is it getting worse? Have you had issues using the toilet, such as blood in your urine or difficulty urinating? If so, you might have a kidney stone. Kidney stones are solid masses that form in your urinary tract when there are high levels of certain minerals in your urine. Normally, your urine is supposed to have enough water to prevent minerals from sticking together. If you have high levels of those minerals in your urine, they can clump together, forming kidney stones. The kind of minerals that clump together determines what type of kidney stone you get. Read on to learn how kidney stones form, what they’re made of, what symptoms you may have, and how they can be prevented and treated.
Types of Kidney Stones
What are the different types of kidney stones?
- Calcium oxalate or Calcium phosphate: You can get these if you have risk factors that increase the amount of calcium or oxalate in your urine. These include certain diets, some metabolic conditions, high vitamin D levels, and intestinal bypass surgery.
- Struvite: You can get struvite stones after a urinary tract infection.
- Uric acid: If you have certain risk factors like chronic diarrhea, diabetes, or a high-protein diet, you are at increased risk of getting uric acid stones.
- Cystine kidney: Primarily arises in children with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria.
Adults are much more likely to get kidney stones than children. And White males in their 30s and 40s are the most likely group to get kidney stones, although anyone can get one.
Risk factors for developing kidney stones include:
- Being overweight
- Family or personal history
- Dehydration, which makes your urine more concentrated and increases the risk that minerals will clump together
- Certain diets, such as those high in salt, protein, or sugar
- Digestive diseases and surgery, which affect the way your body absorbs minerals
- Certain medical conditions, like cystinuria, repeated urinary tract infections, gout, and cystic fibrosis
- Certain medications, like dietary supplements, vitamin C, laxatives (when used too much), calcium-based antacids, and migraine medicines
- Having an overactive parathyroid gland. This causes high levels of calcium in your blood.
Signs and Symptoms
The symptoms of a kidney stone include:
- Severe, one-sided pain in the side or back that moves to the lower abdomen or groin. This pain comes in waves and varies in intensity.
- Pain or burning with urination
- Pink, red, or brown urine
- Cloudy or smelly urine
- A constant need to urinate, more frequent urination, or urinating small amounts
- Nausea or vomiting
Sometimes kidney stones can make urine travel back into the kidneys and cause a kidney infection. If you get a kidney infection, you might also get fever and chills in addition to your other symptoms. You may also notice that the pain caused by a kidney stone may move around or get worse as it moves through your urinary system.
Doctors can use many different diagnostic tests to see if your symptoms might be caused by a kidney stone:
- Blood tests: Your doctor can check your blood to see if it has high calcium or uric acid levels.
- Urine tests: A 24-hour urine collection test may show that there are too many minerals in your urine.
- Imaging: Certain imaging tests can be used to see kidney stones in your urinary tract.
If your kidney stones have already come out in your urine, you should hold on to them and give them to your doctor. Your doctor can analyze them to determine what type of kidney stones they are.
Treatments vary depending on the size of the stones.
Small Kidney Stones
Small kidney stones are eliminated by passing them or letting them go out of the body through your urine. There are a few things you can do to help pass a kidney stone:
- Drinking water: Drinking two to three quarts of water a day will keep a lot of fluid in your urinary system and prevent minerals in the urine from clumping together.
- Pain medication: Passing a small kidney stone can cause discomfort or pain. Your doctor may suggest you take ibuprofen or naproxen sodium to help manage your pain.
- Other medications: Your doctor might prescribe a medication called an alpha-blocker, which relaxes your ureters. These are the tubes connecting your kidneys to your bladder. This helps kidney stones pass faster and less painfully.
Larger Kidney Stones
If your kidney stone is so large that it can’t pass on its own, you can do other things to remove the stone:
- Surgery: A kidney stone can be taken out of your ureters surgically in a procedure called a nephrolithotomy. This may be done for struvite kidney stones, for example, since they can get very large.
- Breaking up the stone: Your doctor can pass a thin tube called a ureteroscope into your ureter through your urethra and bladder. This tube can be used to break the stone into smaller pieces. Your doctor may also use a procedure called shockwave lithotripsy to break up your kidney stone. This uses sound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces.
- Parathyroid gland surgery: This organ in your neck makes the parathyroid hormone. This is a substance that increases the amount of calcium in your body. If your parathyroid gland is overactive, you’ll have high calcium levels, leading to kidney stone formation. If this happens, surgically removing your overactive parathyroid gland stops the formation of stones.
Steps you can take to prevent kidney stones include:
- Drinking a lot of water
- Eating few foods with high levels of oxalate, a mineral that can lead to the formation of calcium oxalate kidney stones
- Keeping your diet low in sodium and protein
- Not taking calcium supplements or calcium-based antacids
Though you should avoid taking calcium supplements, calcium in your diet is fine and does not increase your risk of kidney stones.
You should see your doctor if you’re having:
- Pain so severe that you have difficulty getting comfortable
- Blood in your urine
- Pain with nausea and vomiting
- Pain with fever and chills
- Difficulty urinating
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms. If you’ve already passed the kidney stone, give it to your doctor to analyze. They can tell you what type of stone you have, what treatments will work best, and what you can do to prevent getting more kidney stones in the future.