Kidney stones are hard, solid concentrations of minerals that form in the kidney.
In some cases, kidney stones will travel through the urinary tract, which causes severe pain. Both men and women can experience kidney stones, and the stones can vary in size.
The best treatment options for kidney stones depends on the size and location of the stone(s).
Causes of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones form when minerals like calcium, oxalate, and phosphorous become highly concentrated in the urine. This can happen if you don’t drink enough fluids, which will increase the concentration of minerals and salts in your body.
Eating a diet that’s high in sodium may lead to kidney stones. When you consume too much salt, it increases the levels of calcium in your urine, which is directly linked to kidney stones.
Some people are at a higher risk than others of developing a kidney stone. For example, men are more likely to have kidney stones than women. Older people are affected more than younger people, and Caucasians are at a greater risk than patients of other races.
Certain medications can increase the risk of kidney stones as well. These include indinavir, acyclovir, sulfadiazine, and diuretics. Genetics may play a role in the formation of kidney stones, too. People with a family history of kidney stones are more likely to develop one than people without.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Symptoms don’t usually appear until the stone moves from the kidney to the ureter, which is the tube that connects the kidney and bladder. The main symptom of kidney stones is intense pain in the back, side, or upper abdomen. Fever, nausea, and vomiting are common symptoms as well.
Many people with kidney stones also experience problems with urinating. You may feel pain while urinating or feel the urge to urinate more often than usual. In some cases, kidney stones can cause hematuria, or blood in the urine.
Small kidney stones can usually be passed without medical treatment. The best way to treat a small kidney stone is to drink plenty of fluids and take a pain reliever. Doctors can also prescribe alpha blockers to relax the muscles in the ureter, which will help the stone pass quickly with reduced pain.
If a kidney stone is too large or won’t pass on its own, medical intervention is necessary. One option is non-invasive extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, or ESWL. This procedure uses sound waves to break up the kidney stone into smaller pieces, so it can pass through the ureter. Laser lithotripsy is similar to ESWL, but it uses a laser instead of sound waves to crush the stone.
A ureteroscopy involves moving a tiny camera through the ureter and into the kidney. With this procedure, the doctor can locate the kidney stone and use delicate instruments to break it up and remove it.
If other treatments are unsuccessful for removing the kidney stone, your doctor may perform a pyelolithotomy, which is a surgery to take the stone out of the kidney or the ureter. This procedure usually involves making small incisions in the back to access the stone.
After your kidney stone treatment, your doctor may recommend diet and lifestyle changes to prevent another stone from forming. Drinking plenty of fluids is the best way to prevent kidney stones. Your doctor may also suggest that you reduce your sodium and calcium intake and consume more magnesium and potassium.