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Kidney Stones - Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Written by
Dr. Sneha Kannan
and medically reviewed by Dr. Anshul Varshney

Published on Nov 20, 2019   -  5 min read



Stones in the kidney or any other organ of the urinary system can result in severe abdominal pain, bloody urine, fever, and vomiting. Read the article to know about the other symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Kidney Stones - Types, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones, otherwise called renal lithiasis or renal calculi or nephrolithiasis, are hard minerals and salts deposits that develop inside the kidneys. There are various causes for the formation of kidney stones, and it can affect any part of the urinary tract like the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The most common reason being the urine becoming concentrated, and the minerals in it crystallize and clump together to form stones.

Kidney stones, if diagnosed early, do not cause permanent damage. If the stones are small, the doctor will prescribe painkillers and will advise you to drink a lot of water, so that the stones pass in your urine. It can be quite painful to pass these stones. But if the stone is stuck in some part of the urinary system and has resulted in complications like urinary tract infection, then you might need surgery.

After removing the stones, your doctor will suggest preventive tips and treatment to avoid recurrence.

What Are the Types of Kidney Stones?

Different kidney stones are made up of different crystals. The types of kidney stones based on the crystals are:

  • Calcium - These stones are made up of calcium oxalate or phosphate or maleate, and are the most common type. Consuming foods high on oxalate like peanuts, chocolate, beef, etc., can increase the risk of such renal stones. Although calcium can cause this, consuming sufficient amounts of calcium can prevent these stones from forming.

  • Struvite - It is the most common type of stone seen in women who are suffering from urinary tract infections (UTI). They result from a kidney infection and can grow large and cause obstruction.

  • Uric acid - It is commonly seen in people suffering from gout and undergoing chemotherapy, and is more common in men. Consuming a diet rich in purines, like red meats, fish, shellfish, etc., increases the risk.

  • Cystine - This type is rare, and commonly seen in people who have cystinuria, which is a genetic disorder. Here, the acid cystine leaks into the urine from the kidneys.

What Symptoms Do Kidney Stones Result In?

Kidney stone causes symptoms only when it enters the ureter (the tube that connects bladder and kidney). The signs and symptoms include:

As the stone moves through the urinary tract, the site and intensity of pain can change.

What Can Cause Kidney Stones?

There is no definite cause for kidney stones. But many factors seem to influence its formation. Some of the common risk factors include:

  • Dehydration - It is the leading cause of kidney stones. Not drinking the recommended 8 to 10 glasses of water daily, excessive sweating, etc., can result in dehydration.

  • Family history - You are more likely to develop kidney stones if someone in your family already had it.

  • History of kidney stones - People who had kidney stones in the past are at risk of forming new ones.

  • Diet - Consuming a diet rich in protein, salt, and sugar increases the risk of certain types of renal calculi. High-sodium in your diet increases the amount of calcium that the kidneys need to filter.

  • Obesity - People with body mass index (BMI) of 30 and high are considered obese.

  • Gastric diseases - People suffering from inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhea, etc., are at high risk as it affects the absorption of calcium and water in the body.

  • Other diseases - Conditions like renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, urinary tract infections, etc., can also increase your risk.

  • Gastric surgery - Gastric bypass surgery increases the risk of renal calculi.

  • Medications - Certain medicines like Triamterene diuretics, antiepileptic drugs, and antacids containing calcium can result in stones.

If you are passing less than 1 liter of urine every day, then you are most likely to develop kidney stones. It commonly affects people between 20 and 50 years of age.

What Are the Tests Done to Diagnose Kidney Stones?

If you show symptoms of kidney stones, then your doctor will suggest you get the following tests:

  • Blood test - To check the levels of calcium and uric acid in the blood. It is also used to rule out other conditions that can cause similar symptoms.

  • Urinalysis - Your urine is tested for the presence of stone-forming minerals or the absence of stone-preventing substances.

  • Imaging - To check for the presence of kidney stones or obstruction, various imaging tests can be used. Examples include abdominal X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, and MRI. Other tests - An ultrasound and intravenous urography can also be done. In intravenous urography, a dye is injected into a vein and X-rays are taken.

  • Examination of passed stones - The stones that are passed in the urine are tested to what it is made up of.

How Are Kidney Stones Treated?

The treatment options for small and symptom-less stones are:

  1. Drinking 2 to 3 liters of water every day will help flush out the stone.

  1. Painkillers - As passing a stone can cause severe pain, your doctor will prescribe painkillers like Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, or Naproxen.

  1. Other medicines - Your doctor might prescribe alpha-blockers, which will relax the muscles in your ureter and help pass the kidney stone quickly.

The treatment options for stones that are large and causing symptoms are:

  1. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) - Sound waves are used to break a large stone, which then gets passed in the urine. These sound waves create strong vibrations, which help break the stone. This therapy takes 45 to 60 minutes and can pain.

  1. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy - It is a surgery done to remove very large kidney stones. Here, the stone is removed by using small telescopes and instruments, which are inserted through a small incision in the back. It is done if ESWL was unsuccessful.

  1. Ureteroscopy - In this procedure, a ureteroscope, a thin tube with a camera and light, is passed into the ureter through the urethra and bladder to locate the stone and break it into pieces, so it can be passed in the urine.

Complications of Kidney Stones:

Some of the possible complications are abscess formation, kidney infection, ureteral scarring or stenosis, and ureteral perforation.

Kidney Stones Prevention

Some preventive tips to reduce the risk of kidney stones are:

  • Drinking enough water every day.

  • Drink more water if you sweat excessively or if the climate is hot and dry.

  • Eat less of oxalate-rich foods like rhubarb, beets, spinach, sweet potatoes, chocolate, etc.

  • Consume a diet low in meat.

  • Avoid eating processed and salty food.

  • Be cautious while using calcium supplements and consume a diet rich in calcium.

For more information, consult a nephrologist online now!


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Last reviewed at:
20 Nov 2019  -  5 min read




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