Kidney stones refer to the condition in which stones are formed in your kidneys. Stones are complex substances made up of minerals and salts. A kidney stone is also called renal calculus, and this condition is also referred to as nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis. Since the function of the kidneys is the filtration of the blood and production of urine, sometimes, during the process, large amounts of minerals like calcium, uric acid, oxalates get accumulated in the urine resulting in the formation of stones. These stones start as small but can grow larger and travel down the ureters up to the bladder and urethra. These stones obstruct the flow of urine, and so cause damage to the urinary tract and pain. They are treated with medications that cause the expulsion of the stone. If the stone doesn’t make its way out of the urethra, surgery or lithotripsy may be needed.
The urinary tract includes a pair of kidneys and ureters (tubes that carry urine from kidneys to the bladder), a urinary bladder, and a urethra (a small box that carries urine from the bladder to outside the body).
A combination of genetics and environmental factors plays a role in forming stones. Kidney stones run in families. Some people excrete more amounts of calcium in their urine than others. Low urine volumes result in urine supersaturation with stone-forming constituents like calcium, oxalate, uric acid. Crystals can act as a cradle on which more and more ions and minerals are fostered, thus forming a stone. This can result from low fluid intake and a diet rich in foods that contain plenty of minerals and salts. Normal urine contains some substances (citrate) that act as chelating agents of calcium in the urine. It combines with calcium and takes it out with it in the urine. Decreased levels of these agents also lead to stone formation. Some medicines may predispose to stone formation, including diuretics, calcium supplements, etc.
Types: there are different kidney stones, and the treatment depends upon the type of stone you have.
Renal stones are prevalent throughout the world. They are more common in Caucasians and the male gender. The most susceptible age group is between 35-45 years.
Following risk factors can predispose you to the formation of kidney stones.
Symptoms of a kidney stone depend upon its size and position. Small rocks less than 5 mm can pass through without causing symptoms. Similarly, a stone in the kidney does not cause pain. When a stone passes through the ureters, it causes severe sharp pain at your side and back, starting from the loin, ending at the groin, while coming in waves.
You may also have:
A typical history of pain can direct the diagnosis, although other tests may be performed.
Blood Tests may show the number of minerals and salts in your blood. Also, they can determine your kidney functions or if you have an infection.
Urine tests can tell the urinary infection and the passage of blood and other cells. The collection of 24-hour urine can tell which mineral is in more amount in your urine.
Imaging: these can be used to diagnose a stone. They can show the exact position of the rock and include X-ray KUB, ultrasound, CT scan, MRI.
Stone Lab Test: you may be asked to keep the stone safe that you will pass to be checked in the lab for recurrent rocks and find out the minerals responsible for it.
Some other diseases may have the same symptoms as the stone, such as
Kidney stones are treated with medications and interventional procedures like lithotripsy, surgery, etc.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL): In this procedure, high-intensity ultrasound energy is applied through the body surface by a particular machine to break the stones, which are then made to be expelled using expulsive medical therapy. It can cause pain and bruise at the side of the application.
Ureteroscopy: in this procedure, a flexible tube with the camera is inserted through the urethra up to the ureter; the stones are then broken down into smaller pieces using a laser or taken out directly.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: In this procedure, a small incision is made at your back, and a tube is inserted directly in the ureter, and the stones are retrieved.
Open Surgery: A more extensive incision is made at the abdomen, or the side, the kidney and ureters are reached, and the stones are taken out.
The overall prognosis of kidney stones is good. Small stones may pass by themselves. Medications and other procedures are usually effective for larger stones. In cases of recurrent stones, the doctor may advise more tests to determine the composition and cause of the rock and give you medicines to avoid further stone formation.
Lifestyle Modifications: You can adapt the following habits to avoid the formation of stones,
Our clinical experts continually monitor the health and medical content posted on CURA4U, and we update our blogs and articles when new information becomes available. Last reviewed by Dr.Saad Zia on May 07, 2023.