A kidney stone is a hard object, or “stone,” made up of chemicals in urine. When there is too much waste material in urine, it can crystallize and form a solid object in the kidneys.
The stone stays in the kidneys and grows in size unless it is passed with urine. Kidney stones can vary greatly in size with some being as small as a grain of sand and others as large as a golf ball.
Adults over 30 are more likely to develop kidney stones, but younger people can also develop them.
Types of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones differ based on what they are composed of and how they are formed. There are four main types of kidney stones:
- Calcium oxalate: This is the most common type of kidney stone and is created by the combination of oxalate in the urine.
- Uric acid: Another common type of kidney stone, uric acid stones are caused by high concentrations of purines.
- Struvite: Not as common, this type of stone is caused by upper urinary tract infections.
- Cystine: These stones are uncommon and tend to run in families.
The severity of kidney stone symptoms may vary based on the size of the stone. A larger stone will have more noticeable symptoms. Kidney stones can cause one or a combination of the following symptoms:
- Severe pain on either side of the lower back
- Blood in urine
- Persistent, vague abdominal pain or stomach ache
- Fever and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Cloudy urine
- Urine with a bad odor
- Frequent and persistent urination
- Low volume of urine
Kidney stones are formed when your urine contains a high concentration of crystal-forming waste substances. Normally these substances are flushed out by fluids that prevent crystals from forming. A stone is formed when there are not enough fluids to dilute those substances.
There are factors that can increase the probability of kidney stones. These conditions may increase the concentration of crystal-forming substances in the urine, or affect the absorption of minerals and fluids. Risk factors include:
- Family or personal history
- Diets too high in protein, sodium, oxalate, or calcium
- Digestive diseases or surgery
- Urinary tract infections
If your doctor believes you have symptoms associated with kidney stones, they will examine you and do some diagnostic testing. Tests may include:
- Urine testing: A urine test consisting of two urine collections can be used to determine if you are excreting high levels of minerals that can cause stones.
- Blood testing: A blood test can be used to measure the levels of uric acid and calcium in the blood. Blood testing can also monitor kidney health.
- Imaging: A doctor may use imagine methods like x-rays, CT scans, ultrasounds, and intravenous urography to see kidney stones in the urinary tract.
- Stone analysis: If you have passed any stones, they may be analyzed in a late to determine the content and cause of the stones.
Depending on the size of the kidney stone, treatment will vary. Small stones with minimal symptoms can be treated by drinking large amounts of water to flush out the urinary system and encourage the stone to pass. Over the counter pain relievers can help ease discomfort while the stone passes. A type of medication called an alpha blocker may also be prescribed to help the stone pass.
For larger stones that cause more severe symptoms, more aggressive treatment methods may be necessary. Procedures to remove or break up kidney stones include:
- Breaking up stones with sound waves
- Removing stones with a scope
- Surgical removal of large stones in the kidney.
If you are at a higher risk of developing kidney stones or just want to avoid them in general, there are lifestyle choices you can make to lower your risk. Most of these steps are meant to prevent high concentrations of waste in the urine, and include:
- Drink plenty of fluids, mostly water, to dilute the urine so there is not a large concentration of waste products.
- Eat fruits and vegetables to decrease the urine’s acidity
- Reduce salt consumption by cutting out salty foods like packaged meals, soups, chips, French fries, and even sports drinks.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- If you are overweight and need to lose weight by changing your diet, avoid diets that require a lot of animal-based protein as that can increase the risk of kidney stones. Crash diets can also be risky. If you are losing weight and worried about kidney stones, consult a dietician.
Schedule an Appointment
At Alliance Urology Specialists, our goal is to provide the highest level of specialized urology care. Our board-certified physicians specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of urological conditions, including kidney stones. To schedule an appointment, call Alliance Urology Specialists in Greensboro at (336) 274-1114.