7 Things To Know about Kidney Stones

Our bodies have sometimes interesting reactions to certain problems. A shoe rubbing on your foot creates a blister that protects the skin layers below. When you breath in too much dust, you cough to clear out the debris.

And when fluids and certain substances in your body are out of balance, kidney stones can form. They’re a common disorder of the urinary tract. Each year kidney stone problems cause more than a million visits to health care providers and 300,000 emergency room visits. One out of every 11 people have had a kidney stone.

Who’s More at Risk for Kidney Stones?

Although anyone can have a kidney stone, some people are more susceptible.

  • If you’ve had a kidney stone before, you have a 50 percent chance of having another one within 5 to 7 years.
  • Men get kidney stones more often.
  • They’re more common in non-Hispanic white people.
  • Overweight people have a higher risk for the stones.

A stone can form in your kidney when substances in your urine such as sodium, animal protein and calcium become highly concentrated. This may happen due to your diet or not drinking enough water.

The stone can be the size of a grain of sand or the size of a pearl. In extreme cases, they can be as big as a golf ball.

A smaller stone can pass through the body naturally. With larger stones, a health care professional’s help may be needed. In more severe cases, the stone can get stuck in the urinary tract and cause a painful blockage and possible bleeding.

The signs of a stone that may require professional help include:

  • Burning when you urinate.
  • Urine that smells bad or appears cloudy.
  • Extreme pain in your back or side. The pain typically does not go away.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Vomiting.

To diagnose a kidney stone, your health care professional may use:

  • Urinalysis.
  • Blood test.
  • Abdominal X-ray.
  • CT scan.

To treat a kidney stone that doesn’t pass on its own, your health care professional may:

  • Use shock waves that pass through the body and break up the stone(s).
  • Insert a wire-thin camera and tool through the urethra (it carries urine out of your body). The tool can be used to extract the stone. If needed, the physician can use a different tool to break the stone up using a laser. The smaller pieces can flow out of the body in the urine.
  • Use minimally invasive surgery to remove the stone(s).

The procedure used to remove the stone will depend on its size and what it’s made of.

There are four general types of kidney stones:

Calcium stones are the most common kidney stones. They come in two forms: calcium oxalate stones and calcium phosphate stones.

The calcium oxalate stone is caused by high calcium and oxalate levels. Oxalate is a substance found naturally in foods such as spinach, bran flakes, rhubarb, beets, potato chips, French fries, nuts and nut butters.

Calcium phosphate stones result from a combination of high levels of calcium in the urine and urine that is alkaline — that is it has a high pH level.

Uric acid stones can develop if your urine is consistently acidic, which can happen if your diet high in purines — substances found in animal proteins in meats, fish and shellfish. When uric acid is concentrated in the urine, it can form a stone by itself or with calcium.

Struvite stones can result from kidney infections.

Cystine stones can result from a genetic disorder that causes cystine (a naturally occurring amino acid) to leak through the kidneys and into the urine, forming crystals that can accumulate into stones.

How Can Kidney Stones Be Prevented?

The first step in preventing a kidney stone is to understand what can cause them. If you have kidney stones, your health care professional may ask you to use a small basket to catch the stone so it can be brought in to be analyzed. Surgically removed stones can also be analyzed. You may also be asked to collect urine to measure fluid and mineral levels in your body.

You may be able to prevent future kidney stones by changing your fluid intake. Depending on the type of stones you’re susceptible to, your health care provider may suggest you change your intake of sodium, animal protein, calcium and foods high in oxalate. Make sure your diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables. Add seltzer to your diet. The National Institutes of Health offers a diet for kidney stone prevention.

In some cases, your health care professional may suggest medications to help prevent kidney stones.

If you have questions about kidney stones, visit with your health care professional about your risks and prevention approaches that might work best for you.

Meet the Author

Merrit DeBartolo, MD is a Urologist at Aurora Medical Center in Kenosha, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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