Kidney stones or renal calculi are solid masses present in your kidneys.
These are made of crystals, and can, however, develop in any part of your urinary tract.
Your urinary tract consists of 3 parts: kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra.
Passing kidney stones can be very painful, however, they do not cause any permanent damage.
You might need certain pain medications and drink lots of fluids to pass the kidney stone, depending on your situation.
For instance, if your stones get stuck in the urinary tract, it can cause urinary infections or other complications.
For this, you may need surgery.
If you have frequent development of kidney stones, then your doctor can recommend certain preventive treatments to reduce its recurrence.
Keep on reading and learn more about the types, causes, symptoms, and treatment of kidney stones.
Types of Kidney Stones
Knowing the type of kidney stone can help you to determine its causes and can also give you clues on how to reduce developing them.
If possible, save the kidney stone that you pass through urine so that you can take it to the lab for analysis.
Kidney stones are of the following types:
- Calcium Stones,
- Uric acid
Let’s discuss them as follows:
Calcium Stones and Uric Acid
These stones are most common and are made of calcium oxalate.
This calcium oxalate comes from food that contains calcium phosphate or maleate.
Eating foods that contain less amount of oxalate can help reduce the risk of developing this type of stone.
Diet, high dose of vitamin D, intestinal surgery, or other metabolic syndromes can increase the concentration of calcium in the urine.
High oxalate foods are potato chips, peanuts, chocolates, beets, and spinach.
Although kidney stones are commonly made of calcium, getting enough calcium can prevent stones from developing.
Uric acid kidney stones are more common in men than in women.
This occurs in people who suffer from gout or those having chemotherapy.
The cause of the development of this type of stone is acidity in your urine.
If your diet is rich in purines, then it increases the acidic level of your urine.
Purine is a substance in animal proteins like fish, shellfish, and meats.
Learn more about Vitamin D Deficiency here.
Struvite and Cystine
Struvite is a type of kidney stone that is present mostly in women with urinary tract infections, UTIs.
Moreover, these stones can be large and can also cause urinary obstruction.
They can result from kidney infections and treating its underlying cause can prevent its recurrence.
Cystine stones are rare.
They can develop both in men and women who have a genetic disorder, cystinuria.
With this type o stone, cystine, an acid that occurs in your body leaks from the kidneys into the urine causing the formation of stones.
Causes of Kidney Stones Formation
Kidney stones often do not have any definite or single cause, although there are certain factors that can lead to the development of kidney stones.
When your urine contains more crystal formating substances like calcium, oxalate, or uric acid, then kidney stones form.
These crystals are present in excess in the urine than the fluid in it to help dilute it.
Moreover, your urine may also lack substances that prevent the development of kidney stones.
This substance prevents the sticking of crystals in your urine.
Thus, a decrease in this substance can create an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.
Signs and Symptoms of a Kidney Stone
Often kidney stones cause intense pain. Signs and symptoms of kidney stones may not occur until it begins to move down the ureters.
This pain is called Renal Colic and you may have it on one side of your back or abdomen.
The pain may radiate in the groin area in men.
The pain, however, comes and goes and can be intense.
Moreover, individuals with renal colic may also be restless.
Other symptoms include blood in the urine of either red, pink, or brown color, vomiting, nausea, and chills.
Other signs and symptoms include foul-smelling urine, chills, fever, frequent urge to urine, or urinating in small amounts.
However, in the case of small kidney stones, you may not feel any pain or symptoms as the stone passes through your urinary tract.
Why can they be a Problem?
Kidney stones do not stay in your kidneys forever. In some cases, they pass from the kidney to your ureters.
Ureters are small and delicate. However, if the kidney stone is large to pass, then it may not pass smoothly from the ureter to the bladder.
When these stones pass down the ureter, it can cause spasm and irritation of the ureters. This may also cause blood to appear in the urine.
In some cases, however, kidney stones can also block the flow of urine.
This is called urinary obstruction and can lead to kidney infection and kidney damage.
Diagnosis of Kidney Stones
If your doctor suspects kidney stones based on your signs and symptoms, they may run diagnostic tests and procedures.
Blood Tests: If there is too much calcium or uric acid in your blood, then blood tests can help reveal it.
They may also help monitor the health of your kidneys and also help identify other medical conditions.
Urine Testing: A 24-hour urine collection test can show if you are excreting too many stone-forming minerals or too few stop-preventing substances.
For this, your doctor may perform 2 urine collections over two consecutive days.
Image Tests: These tests can help show kidney stones in the urinary tract.
CT can reveal the presence of tiny stones, while simple abdominal X-rays are less frequently used.
Your doctor may also perform an ultrasound to diagnose kidney stones.
Analysis of Passed Stones: Doctors may also ask you to urinate through a filter or strainer to catch stones that you pass.
Lab analysis can help reveal the makeup of the stones and determine what are the underlying causes.
Treatment of Small Stones with Minimal Symptoms
Small kidney stones do not require invasive treatment.
You will be able to pass them by:
Drinking-Water: Drinking water as much as 2 to 3 quarts or 1.8 to 3.6 liters a day will help dilute your urine and prevent stones from forming.
Drink plenty of fluids unless your doctor recommends otherwise.
Usually, water helps to produce clear or almost clear urine.
Pain Relievers: Passing a small stone can cause pain and discomfort.
To relieve this pain, your doctor may recommend pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
Medical Therapy: To help you pass the kidney stone, your doctor might recommend medications.
This type of medication is an alpha-blocker, which relaxes the muscles in your ureter.
Thus, helps you to pass kidney stones more quickly with less pain and discomfort.
These medications are tamsulosin, and drug combination dutasteride and tamsulosin.
Large Stones with Symptoms
Too large kidney stones do not pass on their own or can cause bleeding, kidney damage, or ongoing urinary tract infections.
Thus, you will need more extensive treatment.
These procedures are:
Ultrasound waves to Break the stones: Depending on the size and location of the stone, your doctor may recommend Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy, ESWL.
ESWL uses sound waves to create strong vibrations or shock waves to break the stones into tiny pieces.
These can pass in your urine.
The procedure lasts for 445 to 60 minutes and can cause moderate pain.
For this, your doctor may put you under sedation or light anesthesia to make you comfortable.
It can cause blood in urine bruising on your back or abdomen, bleeding around the kidney, and other nearby organs.
It can also cause discomfort as the fragments of stone pass through the urinary tract.
Surgery: A procedure Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy is the surgical removal of stones.
It uses a small telescope and other instruments that your doctor will insert through a small incision in your back.
You will receive general anesthesia and may need to stay in the hospital for a day or so.
Other Medical Treatments
Other medical treatment options are:
Using a Scope: Your doctor may pass a thin tube or ureteroscope in case of small stones in your ureter or kidney.
This tube contains a camera that passes through your urethra and bladder to your ureter.
After your doctor locates the stone, special tools can help snare or break the stone. that will help pass them from your urine.
Moreover, your doctor may place a small tube or stent in the ureter to relieve swelling and promote fast healing.
During the procedure, however, you may need anesthesia.
Parathyroid Gland Surgery: Overactive parathyroid glands can cause the formation of calcium phosphate stones.
These are present on the four corners of your thyroid gland, just below Adam’s apple.
When this gland produces too much parathyroid hormone, your calcium levels may increase and leads to the development of stones.
Hyperparathyroidism can occur when a small, benign tumor forms in one of your parathyroid glands.
Or they may also form when you develop another condition that leads these glands to produce more parathyroid hormone.
Removing the growth from the glands stops the development of stones, or your doctor may recommend treatment.
Prevention through Lifestyle Changes
Prevention of kidney stones involves certain lifestyle changes. These are:
Drinking More Water: If you have a history of kidney stones, then you should drink enough fluids to pass about 2.1 quarts or 2 liters of urine a day.
Oxalate-rich Foods: Avoid eating foods like rhubarb, beets, nuts, tea, chocolate, black pepper, and soy products.
Calcium foods or Supplements: Calcium in food does not have a direct effect on the formation of kidney stones.
Continue eating them unless your doctor suggests otherwise.
However, ask your doctor before taking calcium supplements as these can increase your risk of kidney stones.
Prevention through Medications
Medications can help control the minerals and salts in the urine.
Moreover, they can help if you have other types of stones.
Medications depend on the type of kidney stones. These are:
Calcium Stones: For these stones, your doctor will recommend a thiazide diuretic or a phosphate-containing preparation.
Uric Acid Stones: Your doctor may prescribe allopurinol to reduce uric acid levels and a medicine to keep your urine alkaline.
Struvite Stones: To prevent these stones, your doctor will recommend ways to keep your urine free of bacteria causing infections.
This includes drinking water to maintain the flow of urine.
However, in rare cases, using antibiotics in small or intermittent doses can help.
Cystine Stones: A diet lower in salt and protein, as well as drinking more water can help produce more urine.
If this does not help, then your doctor may recommend using a medication that increases the solubility of cystine.
Certain factors that can increase your chances of developing kidney stones are:
Family History: If one of your family members has kidney stones, then you risk developing them as well.
Moreover, if you live in warm, dry climates or sweat a lot, then you are at a higher risk.
Certain Diets: Eating high protein diets, sodium or salt and sugar can increase your risk of stones.
Obesity: High body mass index or BMI, large waist size, and weight gain can increase your chances.
Digestive Diseases and Surgery: Gastric Bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic diarrhea can cause changes in the process of digestion.
This affects the absorption of calcium and water, thus, increasing the amount of stone-forming substances.
Supplements: Supplements like vitamin C, dietary supplements, laxatives, calcium-based antacids or other medications to treat migraines, or depression can increase your chances.
Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions like renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism can increase your risk of kidney stones.
Kidney stones can cause mild to intense pain, however, in case they are small in size, they will pass on their own.
However, if you have recurrent kidney stones, then you should consult your doctor to help determine the underlying cause and get an effective treatment plan.