Many people may not know the difference between a gallbladder stone (or gallstone) and a kidney stone is. Most think that the two are the same thing.
There are some crucial differences between the two. Gallstones and kidney stones are two completely distinct entities, and their origins, too, lie in two different systems of the human body.
Both gallstones and kidney stones are very common and can exist in your body without causing any harm to you. Both are considerably painless in the beginning and require treatment only when they assume larger proportions.
The similarities don’t stop here. Both kidney stones and gallbladder stones can stop the flow of fluids in your body. They can cause immense pain and discomfort and may require treatment or even surgery to remove them.
How are gallbladder stones and kidney stones different?
Gallstones are found in the gallbladder. The primary function of the gallbladder is to store bile. Besides, the gallbladder also helps with digestion.
Gallstones are hard lump-like substances that form inside the bile duct or gallbladder. The bile produced by the human body consists of fats, water, cholesterol, proteins, bile, and salt.
Gallstones are produced when there is too much cholesterol or bilirubin, yet another by-product of the gallbladder.
Gallstones are initially as tiny as a grain of sand but gradually, with time, grow bigger. Thanks to their small size, most people have no idea they have them until they begin to hurt. They are also responsible for cholecystitis, where they cause tremendous pain to the affected individual.
If not treated early, they could cause severe pain and cause further complications by blocking ducts. They can also lead to infections if not removed.
Kidney stones, on the other hand, are formed by mineral deposits in the kidney. The kidney filters the blood and turns the waste into urine. This leads to the separation of minerals from toxic waste. These minerals then combine and build-up to form sand-size grains. But with time, they get bigger and can cause complications in the system.
Kidney stones are often caused by low levels of fluid in your body. When your body has enough water and fluids, then the kidneys function properly and do not allow the build-up of kidney stones. There are several causes of kidney stones, such as an unhealthy diet, age, and calcium supplements.
Similar to gallstones, kidney stones, too, can be asymptomatic in the beginning. You may start to experience pain in the kidneys first and gradually feel it in other parts.
What are the causes of gallstones?
The causes of gallstones can be multiple:
- High cholesterol levels: High cholesterol levels are separated from your bile and can lead to yellow cholesterol stones. This happens when the levels of cholesterol in your bile are higher than your body can dissolve.
- High levels of bilirubin: Bilirubin is a chemical produced when your liver destroys the body’s old red blood cells. Some medical conditions that can result in bilirubin build-up are liver damage and specific blood disorders. These stones are mostly brown or black in colour.
- Full gallbladder: A full gallbladder results from too much bile build-up. This results in gallbladder malfunctioning. Excessive amounts of bile in the gallbladder can become concentrated and form stones.
What are the causes of kidney stones?
There are multiple causes of kidney stones:
- Diet and excessive body weight are the two leading causes of kidney stones. Too much weight and an unhealthy diet could reduce the organs’ effectiveness, leading to a buildup of minerals in the kidneys.
- Lack of water: Water is very vital to the human body. It keeps the body functioning properly, and it also helps in the removal of waste. When water levels are low, the body is unable to remove the wastes naturally. This can lead to a build-up of waste and minerals.
- Underlying medical conditions can cause the formation of kidney stones. Damage to the kidney can also be a cause.
What are the symptoms of gallstones?
The symptoms of gallstones are the following:
- Clay-coloured stools
- Dark urine
- Stomach pain
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
- Pain in the groin region and lower abdomen
- Pain in the body in the form of waves
- Pain or burning sensation during urination
- Sharp pain in the sides of the body and back
What are the risk factors associated with gallstones?
Risk factors associated with gallstones include lifestyle, medical and other factors. These are namely:
- Lifestyle factors
- Not exercising or being overweight
- Diet filled with fats and cholesterol
- Losing weight in a rapid period of time
- Suffering from diabetes mellitus
- Medical factors
- Taking medications to help lower cholesterol
- Medication with high estrogen levels
- Natural factors
- Females are more prone to get it compared males
- A family history of gallstones
- Being over 60 years old
What are the risk factors of kidney stones?
- Family history: If your family members have had a history of kidney stones, you are more susceptible to having them.
- Dehydration: Water plays a vital role in keeping the body clean of wastes. Not drinking adequate amounts of water leads to the build-up of body wastes.
- Obesity: An increase in body weight can run the risk of making your organs function below optimal levels.
- Medical conditions: Diseases like renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria and hyperparathyroidism can cause kidney stones.
How to treat gallstones?
In its early stage, a gallstone is asymptomatic, leaving the affected individual unaware of its presence. Only when it increases in size and causes a blockage resulting in pain, does the person realize gallstone exists.
The most effective treatment is surgery.
Gallstones can be prevented by making good lifestyle choices. These include keeping a healthy body weight and exercising regularly.
How to treat kidney stones?
Treatment for kidney stones involves some natural methods such as these:
- Drinking water: Drinking as much as 3.6 litres of water every day helps dissolve the stones and lets them pass out of your body naturally.
- Pain relievers: Eliminating kidney stones is a painful process, but pain relievers can help relieve a part of the stress patients feel when passing kidney stones.
If the kidney stones are too large, the doctor may suggest surgery to have them removed.
- Shock wave lithotripsy is one treatment option. This treatment uses shock waves to break kidney stones into small pieces. Following the treatment, small pieces of kidney stones will pass through your urinary tract and out of the body through your urine.
- Ureteroscopy is another treatment option. This treatment is also performed under general anesthesia. The procedure involves a doctor using a long tube shaped tool to find and eliminate the stone or to find and break kidney stones into small pieces. Your doctor may be able to remove the stone, if it is small. If the stone is big, it has to be broken into pieces. In such case, a laser will be used to break the stone into small pieces so they can pass through your urinary tract.