A kidney stone is a small, hard rock-like substance that forms on the walls of the kidney. It is a common condition that is usually short-lived. Fortunately, it is a treatable condition and usually leaves no permanent damage.
What is a kidney stone?
Kidney stones, otherwise known as nephrolithiasis, are small, hard deposits made of minerals such as calcium and salts. When these minerals and salts build up on the walls of your kidney over time, they become stones that remain in the kidney or are passed via urine. Passing these stones can be very painful.
What are the types of kidney stones?
There are four types of kidney stones:
- Calcium stones.Most kidney stones fall under this category. Calcium stones are composed of calcium oxalate. Dietary factors, certain types of disorders, and intestinal bypass surgery can increase the concentration of both calcium and oxalate in your urine. Sometimes, calcium stones may come in the form of calcium phosphate. This usually occurs as a result of metabolic disorders and certain medications.
- Struvite stones.Struvite stones usually occur as a result of a urinary tract infection. These stones may enlarge rapidly, usually with little to no warnings.
- Cystine stones. People with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria are at risk of developing this type of kidney stones. Cystinuria is a condition in which the kidney secretes excess amounts of a specific amino acid.
- Uric acid stones. People with a metabolic condition, diabetes, and genetic factors, those who eat high fiber foods, and those who lose too much fluid due to a condition are at risk of developing uric acid stones.
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
Kidney stones, especially small ones, usually go unnoticed until they move around in your kidney or pass into your ureters. If they lodge in the ureters, it may block the urine flow, causing your ureter to spasm and your kidney to swell. Following such developments, you may experience these symptoms:
- Sharp and intense pain in your side and back
- Pain that radiates to your abdomen and groin
- Pain under your ribs
- Pain that comes in waves
- Pain that varies in intensity
- Pain or a burning sensation when you urinate
- Pink, brown, or red urine
- Hematuria (blood in your urine)
- Cloudy urine
- Foul-smelling urine
- A persistent urge to urinate
- Passing small amounts of urine
- Urine infection
- Fever and chills
When should I visit a doctor?
If you notice signs of kidney stones, consult a medical professional immediately to avoid progression. Be particularly wary of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty moving or sitting
- Difficulty passing urine
- Nausea and vomiting accompanied by pain.
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What is the diagnosis of kidney stones?
The diagnostic tests for kidney stones are:
- Imaging. Kidney stones in your urinary tract can be discovered by imaging tests. High-speed or dual-energy CT scans can reveal even small stones. An abdominal X-ray is rarely used because it can miss tiny stones. Ultrasound, which is easy to perform, is another imaging test that can be used to diagnose kidney stones.
- Blood tests. Blood tests may reveal the presence of too much calcium and/or uric acid in your bloodstream. Additionally, they can monitor the health of your kidneys, which may lead your doctor to check for other conditions.
- Urine tests.The urine tests may indicate the presence of too many stone-forming substances or too few stone-preventing compounds in your urine. For this test, you may have to provide two urine samples over two consecutive days.
- Analysis of passed stones. For this test, you will have to urinate through a strainer to collect stones that you pass. Analysis of these samples will reveal the makeup of your stones. This information can be used to determine the cause of your kidney stones.
How are kidney stones treated?
The treatment administered for kidney stones varies based on the size of the stones.
- Small stones. These stones do not usually require invasive treatments. They can be solved by:
- Drinking water. Ensure that you are drinking between 1.8-3 liters of water every day. This can help dilute your urine and prevent the formation of stones in your kidney.
- Taking pain relievers.Passing a stone, even if it is small, can be extremely painful. To alleviate this pain, take a prescribed painkiller such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium.
- Medical therapy.Alpha-blockers such as tamsulosin and the combination of dutasteride and tamsulosin can help relax the muscles in the ureter and reduce pain when passing out a kidney stone.
- Large stones.These stones cause blockage, infections, bleeding, and pain. They have to be removed by invasive procedures such as:
- Sound waves. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, commonly called ESWL, is a procedure used to break up certain kidney stones using sound waves. ESWL uses these waves to propagate shock waves that break the stones into very small particles that can be passed out through urine. This procedure takes about 45 to 60 minutes and can be moderately painful. Therefore, you will be under light anesthesia. ESWL may cause hematuria, bleeding in the kidney and other organs nearby, bruising on the back or abdomen, and discomfort as the broken particles pass out.
- Surgery. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy involves removing a kidney stone by a surgical procedure. Small telescopes and instruments will be inserted into your body through an incision in your back. You will receive general anesthesia during the procedure. You may have to stay in the hospital for two days as you recover. This procedure is usually recommended only if ESWL is unsuccessful.
- Using a scope to remove stones. To remove a tiny stone, a ureteroscope (a thin tube equipped with a light source and a camera) will be passed through your urethra to your ureter. After the stone is located, special tools are used to break it into smaller particles that will pass out through your urine. After this procedure, a small tube will be placed in your ureter to promote healing.
- Treating hyperparathyroidism. Too much parathyroid hormone released by overactive parathyroid glands can cause your calcium levels to increase too much, and kidney stones may develop as an effect. Treating this condition can prevent kidney stones from developing.
How can I prevent kidney stones?
Kidney stones can be prevented by:
- Drinking a lot of water
- Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle.
- Consuming less salt
Kidney stones may be mild or serious, depending on their size and development. Getting an early treatment can prevent a lot of pain and serious complications in the future.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What are the complications of kidney stone treatment?
Following the treatment of large kidney stones, certain complications may arise. They are:
- Sepsis. Sepsis is a life-threatening condition that is triggered by an infection.
- A blocked ureter
- A urinary tract infection
- An injury to your urinary system.
- What are the risk factors for kidney stones?
The risk factors for kidney stones are:
- History of having kidney stones
- A diet rich in salt, calcium, and high-fiber foods
- Disease and infections in the digestive and/or urinary system.
- Certain medication.
- What are the causes of kidney stones?
There is no single cause for kidney stones. They may develop as a result of many factors. It usually occurs when minerals and salts crystallize on the walls of the kidney. Later, they develop into small, hard stones. It may also be caused by certain medicines and infections.