Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that form in the kidneys and may pass through the urinary tract. Kidney stones can stay in the kidneys and cause no problems, and small stones may pass in urine without notice. However, kidney stones can get too big. Larger stones may collect in the kidneys and block waste from passing through the urinary tract. If these larger stones try to pass through the urinary tract system they may also get lodged in the ureter, connecting each kidney to the bladder, or the urethra, a small tube that carries urine out of the body from the bladder. This can result in serious pain or blockage of the urinary tract and require medical intervention.
The kidneys are two fist-sized organs in the lower back on either size of the spine. They filter blood and collect liquid waste that passes through the ureter to the bladder and out of the urethra as urine. The kidneys also balance the levels of electrolytes, which are made up of minerals, such as, calcium, oxalate, sodium, phosphorous, and potassium.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
When high concentrations of these minerals are noted in the urine, little deposits may form in the kidneys, called kidney stones. For those who are susceptible to kidney stones, certain foods may promote their growth. However, scientists don’t believe that eating specific foods cause kidney stones in people who are not susceptible to them. People who become dehydrated or do not drink enough fluids are at higher risk of forming kidney stones because the mineral levels are more concentrated.
Those who are at increased risk of kidney stones may include people with conditions or diseases that affect acidity levels, cause high levels of calcium and other minerals, involve the kidneys or gastrointestinal tract, or have a family history of kidney stones. Certain medications can cause kidney stones as well. Check with your doctor for a complete list of diseases, conditions, and medications that may increase this risk.
Types of Kidney Stones
There are four major types of kidney stones:
• Calcium stones – the most common type of kidney stones which comes in two major forms: calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate.
• Uric acid stones – resulting from highly acidic urine.
• Struvite stones – caused by kidney infections.
• Cystine stones – caused by a genetic condition that results in crystallization of cystine in the urine.
Kidney stones can be smooth or jagged and are typically yellow or brown in color. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball.
Kidney Stone Symptoms
Many people have small stones that pass easily through the urinary tract without notice and with no symptoms. However, there are a few tell-tale signs that may indicate the presence and seriousness of kidney stones.
• Pain while urinating
• Blood in the urine
• Sharp pain in the back or lower abdomen
• Nausea and vomiting associated with pain
How are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
To diagnose kidney stones, a doctor or professional health care provider may perform a physical exam, take a medical history, and ask questions about diet and lifestyle. They may also perform diagnostic tests like a urinalysis or blood test and imaging tests using x-rays and CT scanners.
Kidney Stone Treatment
The size, type, and seriousness of a kidney stone can determine how it’s treated. Some are treated through less-invasive means such as shock wave lithotripsy, which breaks up the stone into smaller pieces so they can pass through the urinary tract easier. More invasive means include retrieving the stone via the urinary tract or breaking it up using laser energy, and surgery through an incision to the back and into the kidney to remove the blockage and drain the debris.
Kidney stones may be prevented through a change in eating, diet, and nutrition and through the use of medications. The type of stone, determined by lab analysis upon retrieval, can dictate what those changes are. One of the most effective preventative measures is simply drinking enough fluids. For those that are prone to kidney stones, acidic juices, such as orange juice or lemonade, can help prevent the formation of deposits.
For more information on the kidney stone causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention, contact Urological Associates at (719) 634-1994.