Kidney stones are an accumulation of minerals and salts that are normally dissolved into urine. Most kidney stones are composed largely of calcium, however they can also be composed of uric acid, struvite, and cystine, although the latter two are extremely rare. Kidney stones can vary in size from small to large and rarely cause issues when they stay within the kidney. In some cases, they can move down the ureter and into the bladder. If they reach the bladder, they can safely be passed through the urine. However, if they become stuck in the ureter, they can cause pain and block urine.
Did You Know?
Your diet can increase or decrease your risk of developing kidney stones. For example, a diet high in protein, salt, and sugar can increase the risk of kidney stones. Making dietary adjustments, such as altering your sodium, calcium, oxalate, protein, citrate, and potassium intake can decrease the risk of developing kidney stones. Drinking plenty of fluids, at least 12 cups daily, can also decrease the risk of developing kidney stones.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Do I have a kidney stone?
If you have a kidney stone in your kidney, you may not have any symptoms and be completely unaware of it. When a kidney stone moves down into the ureter, however, you will likely have symptoms including:
- Sharp, cramping pain along the back and side that moves down into the lower abdomen or groin
- Sudden pain that comes in waves
- Nausea and vomiting
- Feeling an intense need to urinate
- Burning during urination
- Urinating more than normal
- Dark or red urine that contains blood
- Men can feel pain at the tip of their penis
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
Most kidney stones are diagnosed when they begin to cause pain in the patient. To accurately diagnose kidney stones, an ultrasound or CT scan are often used to determine the size and location of the stone. In cases with “silent” kidney stones, they may be found in x-rays during a routine health exam.
How are kidney stones treated?
For small kidney stones, it may be possible to simply “wait it out” and allow the stone to pass naturally. Certain medications may be prescribed during this time to help pass the stone and keep you comfortable.
In other cases, surgical procedures like ESWL or Ureteroscopy may be required. Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) uses repeated and focused shock waves to break a larger kidney stone into smaller pieces that can be safely passed through the urine. Although ESWL does not require incisions, there is still a need for anesthesia to control breathing and possible discomfort. ESWL is performed as an outpatient procedure, meaning you go home the same day and can resume your normal activities within 2-3 days following the procedure.
Another option, Ureteroscopy (URS), passes a tiny scope into the bladder and up through the ureter into the kidney. This allows for visualization of the stone. Once the stone is identified, it can be removed with the scope or broken up prior to being removed. After stone removal a stent, or a rigid plastic tube, may be placed to hold the ureter open and promote good urine flow. If a stent is placed, it will need to be removed about 10 days later. URS is also performed as an outpatient procedure and you can return to your usual activities within 2-3 days following the procedure.