Kidney stones or renal calculi, are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that develop from your kidneys. In some people, chemicals crystallize in the urine and may form kidney stones. These stones are very tiny when they form, smaller than a grain of sand, but gradually can grow over time to an inch or larger. However, they can develop anywhere along your urinary tract, which are:
The size of the stone is important, but where it is located and whether it obstructs or prevents urine from draining can be just as important. When the stone sits in the kidney, it rarely causes pain, but when it falls into the ureter, it acts like a dam. As the kidney continues to function and make urine, pressure builds up behind the stone and causes the kidney to swell.
This pressure is what causes the pain of kidney stones, but it also helps push the stones along the course of the ureter. When the stone enters the bladder, the obstruction in the ureter is relieved and the symptoms of a kidney stone are resolved.
Kidney stones are very painful but does not usually cause any permanent damage if detected early.
Causes of kidney stones
Kidney stones often have no definite, single cause, although several factors may increase your risk. Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid than the fluid in your urine can dilute.
Risk factors for kidney stones
The leading risk factor of kidney stones is dehydration. Stones are more commonly found in individuals who drink less water a day. When there is not enough water to dilute the uric acid, a component of urine, the urine becomes more acidic.
Other risk factors include:
- family or personal history.
- a diet with high levels of protein, salt or glucose
- hyper-parathyroid condition
- gastric bypass surgery
- inflammatory bowel diseases that increase calcium absorption
- taking medications such as diuretics, anti-seizure drugs, and calcium-based antacids
Signs and symptoms
A kidney stone usually remains asymptomatic until it moves into the ureter. When symptoms of kidney stones become apparent, they commonly include:
- Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
- Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
- Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
- Painful urination
- Pink, red or brown urine
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent need to urinate
- Urinating more often than usual
- Fever and chills if an infection is present
- Urinating small amounts
Different types of kidney stones
Calcium stones are the most common. It made of calcium oxalate. Eating fewer oxalate-rich foods can reduce your risk of developing this type of stone. High-oxalate foods include: potato chips, peanuts, chocolate and spinach.
This type of kidney stone is more common in men than in women. They can occur in people with gout or those going through chemotherapy. This type of stone develops when urine is too acidic. A diet rich in purines can increase urine’s acidic level. Purine is a colorless substance in animal proteins, such as fish, shellfish, and meats.
It’s mostly in women with urinary tract infections (UTIs). These stones can be large and cause urinary obstruction. They result from a kidney infection. Treating an underlying infection can prevent the development of struvite stones.
Cystine stones are rare. They occur in both men and women who have the genetic disorder cystinuria. With this type of stone, cystine an acid that occurs naturally in the body leaks from the kidneys into the urine.
Treatment of kidney stones
Treatment is tailored according to the type of stone. Urine can be strained and stones collected for evaluation. Passing a stone can be very painful.
In addition, drink six to eight glasses of water a day to increase urine flow.
Additionally, if a person has a history of kidney stones, home treatment may be suitable. Individuals who have never passed a kidney stone should speak with a doctor.
Furthermore, if hospital treatment is needed, an individual may be rehydrated via an intravenous (IV) tube, and anti-inflammatory medication may also be administered.
Moreover, narcotic drugs are also used for pain. Antiemetics medications used in people experiencing nausea and vomiting.
Last but not the least, in some cases, a urologist can perform a shock wave therapy called lithotripsy. This is a treatment that breaks the kidney stone into smaller pieces and allow it to pass.
Finally, people with large stones located in regions that do not allow for lithotripsy may receive surgical procedures, such as removal of the stone via an incision in the back or by inserting a thin tube into the urethra.