A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms in the kidney from substances in the urine. It may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pearl. Most kidney stones pass out of the body without help from a doctor. But sometimes a stone will not go away. It may get stuck in the urinary tract, block the flow of urine and cause great pain.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones:
- Extreme pain in your back or side that will not go away
- Blood in your urine
- Fever and chills
- Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
- A burning feeling when you urinate
- Your doctor will diagnose a kidney stone with urine, blood, and imaging tests.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones form from crystals in the urine (wee). They can be painful and sometimes serious. It is important to see your doctor if you think you might have one.
You’re more likely to get kidney stones if you’ve had one before, if they run in your family, or if you have certain health conditions like obesity, high blood pressure or gout.
Some medications, such as antiviral drugs, can increase your risk. But for most people, they just happen for no good reason. There are many types of kidney stones, but most often they are made from calcium.
The pain of kidney stones can be severe, although some people feel no pain. You usually feel it on your back, side, lower belly or groin. It is caused by the stone passing from your kidney to your bladder, or from your bladder to the outside world.
Preventing Kidney Stones
What can I do to keep from getting another kidney stone?
Most people who have kidney stones have a 50% chance of developing another kidney stone within 10 years. But there are things you can do to lower your risk:
- Drink at least 2 liters of fluids (water is best) per day. Your doctor may have you measure your urine output to be sure you are drinking the right amount of fluids.
- Do not eat more than 1,500 mg of salt per day (about 1 teaspoon). This includes salt in pre-packaged food.
- Check nutrition labels to see how much salt (sodium) is in your food.
- Try not to eat more than 2 servings of meat per day. Each serving should be no more than 6 to 8 ounces.
- If you have had more than one kidney stone, your doctor might send you to a specialist to find the exact cause of your stones. Some people need medicine to keep from getting another kidney stone
What causes kidney stones?
There are four types of kidney stones:
1. Calcium stone: This is the most common type of kidney stone. Calcium that is not used by your bones and muscles goes to your kidneys. Usually, the kidneys will get rid of the extra calcium through the urine. Calcium stones occur when some of the calcium remains in the kidneys and collects over time.
2. Struvite stone: A struvite stone is more common in women. It usually forms after a chronic urinary tract infection. These stones are usually made of ammonia.
3. Uric acid stone: A uric acid stone forms when there is too much uric acid in the urine. You may be at risk for this type of stone if you eat a high-protein diet or if you’ve received chemotherapy.
4. Cystine stone: A cysteine stone is not very common. The disease that causes cystine stones to form runs in families and is called cystinuria.
In many situations, the diagnosis of renal colic or kidney stones can be made just based on the symptoms and history. Sometimes further tests are needed such as one or more of the following:
- If possible, collect the kidney stone. This can be very helpful to find what caused it.
- X-rays (sometimes with an injection of a dye called an intravenous pyelogram IVP or intravenous urogram IVU)
- A CT (computerized tomography) scan
- Renal ultrasound
- Urine test looking for blood can also be helpful.
If you continue to form stones, further blood tests and a 24-hour collection of urine will be required. These tests will help to identify any specific risk factors that may be causing your stones to develop. This may lead on to advice from a dietician regarding specific dietary recommendations and, in some circumstances, medications to prevent further stone formation.
Most kidney stones will pass through the urinary tract into the bladder where they will come out in the urine. During this time, you may experience renal colic that will generally be treated with strong painkillers from your family doctor or emergency clinic.
If the pain is controlled and your stone is known to be small, generally the best course of treatment is to wait for several days or weeks for the stone to pass into the bladder.
If, however, the stone is too large to pass or doesn’t pass with time, then treatment is needed. The choice of which type of treatment is best is made by your urologist, depending on many factors such as the size and position of the stone.
The treatment can either be in the form of:
Ureteroscopy – a small, narrow ‘telescope’ is passed up through the bladder to the stone so that the stone can be removed or broken (sometimes with a laser).
Lithotripsy– a special machine is used that sends ‘shock waves’ through the body to break up the stone into tiny pieces that will later pass in the urine.
Percutaneous surgery – a telescope is passed through the skin of the back (and into the kidney) to see and remove the stone. This is reserved for stones that are large and still in the kidney.
Open surgery – nowadays it is very rare to require a ‘cutting’ operation to remove a stone but it is sometimes the best option.
Self-care For People Suggering With Kidney Stones
Approximately 50% of people will only pass one kidney stone in their lives but around 50% will get further kidney stones. The most important thing you can do to prevent further kidney stones forming is to drink lots of fluid.
Drink at least two to 2.5 liters of fluid each day.
- Drink throughout the day and night if possible. The best fluid is water.
- You will know if you are drinking enough by the color of your urine, which should be pale yellow to clear.
- Take the juice of one to two lemons (approximately 100mls daily). This can be diluted with water to drink over the course of the day.
- Reduce salt (sodium) intake by keeping salt in cooking to a minimum and do not add salt to meals.
- Avoid high protein intake as this can increase calcium and oxalate excretion and this increases stone formation.
- Choose small to moderate serves of meat, fish, chicken, eggs, milk and dairy food.
- Make sure you get enough calcium in your diet (low calcium can encourage stone formation).