Kidney stones are crystals or hard deposits of minerals and salts (found in urine) that form inside the kidneys. Urine has various wastes dissolved in it. When there is too much waste or too little liquid, crystals begin to form. These crystals combine with other elements to form kidney stones.
The kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand or up to the size of a golf ball. Sometimes the tiny stones are passed out in urine without pain, but the bigger ones don’t move, causing a back-up of urine in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra. This is what causes the pain. If they are diagnosed early enough, they cause no permanent damage.
Signs and symptoms
- Severe pain in the groin, side of the abdomen, back or all of them together
- Blood in the urine
- Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
- Pain or burning sensation while urinating
- A urinary tract infection (UTI)
Other signs and symptoms
- Pink, red, or brown urine
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- A persistent need to urinate, urinating more often than usual or urinating in small amounts
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills if there is an infection
If the kidney stone blocks the passage of urine, a kidney infection may result in the following symptoms:
- Fever and chills
- Weakness and fatigue
- Cloudy, foul-smelling urine
Types of kidney stones
There are four main types of kidney stones each with different causes:
- Calcium oxalate: is the most common type and is created when calcium combines with oxalate in the urine. It may be caused by inadequate calcium and fluid intake and a host of other conditions.
- Uric acid: is the second most common type of kidney stone. Foods like organ meats and shellfish have high concentrations of a natural compound known as purines. High purine intake leads to a higher production of monosodium urate which under the right conditions may form kidney stones in the kidneys.
- Struvite: these are caused by infections in the upper urinary tract and are less common.
- Cystine: these tend to run in the family and are rare.
Certain things increase the risk factors of developing kidney stones, including:
- Not drinking enough liquids
- Having a diet that includes substances that form stones such as foods rich in phosphate (meat, fish, and other animal protein)
- Having a family history of kidney stones
- Being aged 40 or older although it occasionally affects children
- Having a blockage in the urinary tract
- Sedentary lifestyle
Certain medical conditions including
- Hypercalciuria i.e., high calcium levels in your urine
- High blood pressure
- Cystic fibrosis
- Kidney cysts
- Inflammatory bowel diseases and chronic diarrhoea
- Some surgical weight loss procedures including weight loss surgery or stomach and intestine surgeries
Certain medications including
- Calcium-based antacids (used to treat osteoporosis)
- Some antibiotics
- Some medication used to treat HIV and seizures
Certain foods including
- Meat and poultry (animal protein)
- Sodium-rich diets (high in salt)
- Sugars (fructose, sucrose, and corn syrup)
Treatment and diagnosis
When to see a doctor
Seek medical attention if you experience:
- Pain so severe that you can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
- Blood in your urine
- Pain accompanied by fever and chills
- Difficulty passing urine
- Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
Various tests can show whether kidney stones are present:
- A physical examination may identify the kidneys as the source of pain
- Urinalysis can reveal blood in the urine or signs of an infection
- Blood tests can help identify complications
- Imaging tests such as CT scans and ultrasounds to reveal any structural changes.
Treatment is focused on managing symptoms and removing the stone. It may involve:
- A high intake of fluids by mouth or intravenously
- Pain relief medication
- Medication to help speed up the passage of stones
The duration of time required to pass a stone varies and is based on the size and location.
To prevent new kidney stones from forming:
- Limit protein intake
- Reduce calcium intake
- Consuming less salt
- Eating more citrus fruits.
Citrus fruits contain the chemical citrate which helps prevent the formation of kidney stones. Additionally, dieticians and doctors can suggest diet plans to manage kidney stones.