More than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems each year. It is estimated that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. Kidney stones can vary in size and be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pebble.
What is a kidney stone? A kidney stone forms in the open spaces inside your kidneys. They can form in one or both kidneys. A kidney stone contains certain chemicals that cannot be dissolved in the urine. These chemical start as tiny crystals which continue to grow until a stone is formed.
What causes a kidney stone to form? Kidney stones begin to form when there are high levels of crystal- forming chemicals such as calcium, oxalate, uric acid or salt and too little liquid in the kidney. Stones can also form if there is too little stone-blocking agents in the urine.
What are the most common symptoms of a kidney stone? Symptoms include:
- Severe lower back pain that can move into the groin area
- Frequent pain while urinating
- Making small amounts of urine
- Pain can be associated with fever and chills or nausea and vomiting
- Change in color of urine or blood in urine
How are kidney stones diagnosed? The diagnosis of a kidney stone starts with a description of your symptoms and a physical exam. Imaging tests such as a CT scan or x-ray, a urine test, and/or a blood test may also be necessary.
How are kidney stones treated? The treatment options for kidney stones depends on many factors. For example, treatment options depend on the size of the stone, the composition of the stone, whether it is causing pain and whether it is blocking your urinary tract. Your doctor will determine which treatment option is best for you and your situation.
Some treatment options for kidney stones include:
- Medication and Fluids. This treatment option involves passing the stone naturally through your urinary tract with the use of pain medicine and plenty of fluids.
- Shockwave Treatment. This treatment option uses shock waves to break up the kidney stone into small pieces so that they can pass through your urinary tract. This treatment is done by a urology doctor and usually takes about 1 hour under general anesthesia.
- Scope. Smaller stones can be removed (or broken up) by a special camera and tools that are inserted into the urinary system through the urethra and bladder.
- Surgery. For larger stones, one option involves a surgical procedure where a tiny scope is inserted through a small incision in your back and then used to break up the stones. This procedure may require a short hospital stay.
How can I prevent kidney stones?
- Drink plenty of water (at least 2 liters a day) or more, depending on your level of exercise and weather
- Eat a healthy diet and reduce salt (sodium) in your diet (to less than 2000 mg a day)
- Have your urine tested for the type of stone and if needed, limit foods that contain the stone forming substance. If you have kidney stones, ask your doctor what type of diet you should follow and what type of foods you should avoid.
- Depending on your type of stone, your doctor may prescribe certain medications. Or your doctor may stop a medication that may worsen your type of stone.
Who is at risk for kidney stones? Anyone can get a kidney stone. Men experience kidney stones more often than women do. Kidney stones are also more common in certain ethnic groups such as non-Hispanic Caucasians. You may also be more likely to have kidney stones if:
- You have had kidney stones before.
- Someone in your family has had kidney stones.
- You do not drink enough water.
- You follow a diet high in protein, sodium and/or sugar.
- You are overweight or obese.
- You have had gastric bypass surgery or another intestinal surgery.
- You have polycystic kidney disease or another cystic kidney disease.
- You have a certain condition that causes your urine to contain high levels of cystine, oxalate, uric acid or calcium.
- You have a condition that causes swelling or irritation in your bowel or your joints.
- You take certain medicines, such as water pills, antacids or calcium supplements.
Are kidney stones a sign of chronic kidney disease (CKD)? Kidney stones are just one risk factor that could contribute to chronic kidney disease. It is important to talk to your doctor about other risk factors. Talk to your healthcare team and learn how you can be proactive in prevention of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and kidney stones.
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms of having a kidney stone, see a doctor as soon as possible for an evaluation.