A kidney stone is a small stone shaped buildup or concretion that forms within the kidney as a result of a calcium or other buildups within the urinary tract, ureter, or other area within the bodies digestive system. The concretions are also known as calculi, which is a crystal aggregation. There are a few different types of kidney stones and vary according to what mineral is primarily found in the buildup.
Alternative Names for Kidney Stones
Nephrolithiasis is the name given to the condition of having kidney stones. Ureterolithiasis is the physician’s term for having a calcium buildup in the tube that connects the bladder and the kidneys. This tube is called the ureter. Urolithiasis is the term for the condition of having a calcium buildup in the urinary tract, including within the kidneys or in the urinary bladder.
The condition of having kidney stones in other animals, such as cats and dogs, is often called bladder stones and is similar to urolithiasis.
Symptoms That Accompany Kidney Stones
The most common symptom associated with kidney stones is a severe pain in the groin area that can extend into the body and across the lower back. This pain may be continuous or come and go in spurts. This pain will typically increase in degree and become more defined with time. Other symptoms associated with kidney stones include:
- Nausea and vomiting as the result of the intestine becoming infected.
- Small amounts of pus in the urine.
- Reduced amount of urine which is caused by the kidney stone obstructing the urinary tract.
- Hydronephrosis is the dilation of the renal pelvis and can often accompany kidney stones.
- A burning sensation while urinating. This symptom can also be the cause of many other urinary disorders such as a urinary tract infection.
- Small traces of blood can be found in the urine of a person who has kidney stones.
If the kidney stones are small enough, the person may not feel any of these symptoms and can pass the kidney stone through the urinary tract without even noticing any pain. Other symptoms may also be present that are not directly caused by kidney stones but can be the result of an infection or other problem. These symptoms can include a high fever, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, and severe headaches.
Causes of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones and calcium crystals within the kidney can be caused by some condition such as renal acidosis, medullary sponge kidney, or Dent’s disease. If a person is known to have one of these disorders or a similar one, they may be subjected to recurring kidney stones. The most common form of kidney stones is a buildup that consists of calcium oxalate crystals and is caused by excessive calcium intakes or an inability of the kidneys to digest this calcium.
Some activities may cause kidney stones, besides a health disorder. These activities might include not drinking enough water or a sudden change in diet. When your body does not get enough water, the kidneys are less able to pass salts, minerals, and other substances through the urine. This will cause a buildup that eventually forms kidney stones.
Uric acid is another cause of many kidney stones. Uric acid is a chemical that is produced from purine and is the final oxidation product of purine metabolism. This acid is typically excreted in the urine, but if it is unable to be released may cause a buildup that will eventually form a kidney stone. This form of kidney stones is more common in mammals other than humans.
It is common to have kidney stones occur in members of the same family for several generations. Tests are still being performed to determine how kidney stones may be part of a persons genetics.
Risk Factors for Kidney Stones
Family history plays one of the largest roles in determining whether or not a person may contract kidney stones. If someone in your family has a strong history of kidney stones, you are more likely to develop the problem, also. If a person has had kidney stones in the past, they are more likely to get them again at some point in the future.
Adults are much more likely to have kidney stones than children. Also, adults over the age of 40 are at the greatest risk of having kidney stones. Men are much more likely to have kidney stone problems then women, and race is not known to play a factor in kidney stone development.
A person who becomes dehydrated on a regular basis or has a history of dehydration is at a high risk of developing kidney stones. This is due to the important role that water plays in the digestive system and organs such as kidneys. People who have a high BMI (Body Mass Index) or are generally obese and overweight are linked to having an increased risk of kidney stones.
A person who has been diagnosed with one of several digestive diseases or has recently had a surgery that is related to the digestive system may develop kidney stones. Some of the digestive diseases that may be related to kidney stones include inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea. Surgeries such as gastric bypass surgery may cause kidney stones.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
The best way to prevent the presence of kidney stones is to eat a healthy diet and to be involved in regular exercise. A good diet to avoid kidney stones should not be excessively high in protein, sodium, or sugar. The diet should also follow a few of the following tips:
- A diet high in fiber will help to have a healthy digestive system with properly functioning kidneys. Oats, beans, wheat, cabbage, and carrots are all examples of foods that are rich in fiber.
- Do not eat meat excessively, especially beef and pork.
- Get the recommended amounts of calcium. Try to get your calcium intake from dairy products such as milk, cheese, and yogurt.
- Avoid dark green vegetables, nuts, chocolates, and other foods that are known to be high in oxalate. Vegetables are healthy, but do not eat them excessively.
- Cut back on salt intake. Salt buildup is one of the most common ways in which kidney stones begin to form.
Another recommendation given by scientists and physicians is to drink more fluids. The more fluids you drink the clearer your urine becomes. If you notice clear urine, it is a sign that your kidneys are functioning properly. Most physicians recommend 8 to 10 glasses of water every day. If your body is not used to this much water then you should not immediately begin drinking 8 to 10 glasses per day, begin by increasing your water intake by 1 or 2 glasses per day until you can handle adequate amounts of water. If you notice that urine is a dark yellow color then this might be a sign of not enough water entering the kidneys.
Tests and Diagnosis Considerations when Dealing with Kidney Stones
Urine and blood tests are the most common methods of diagnosing kidney stones. Doctors will look for blood, calcium, and high amounts of protein in the urine, which can denote the presence of an obstruction or irritation within the urinary tract. X-ray and radiological imaging techniques are also used to diagnose kidney stones. Because calcium is very dense, they can be detected by most hospital X-ray machines. The X-ray will show a buildup within the kidney, ureters, and bladder.
A physician may also perform an Intravenous Pyelogram, or IVP. This test requires that a special dye be injected into the patient’s bloodstream just passed the kidneys. An image can be taken following the injection of the dye which will reveal any buildup locations.
Computed tomography, or CT scans can be used to detect the presence of a kidney stone. This is a method that is used only in extreme cases and not when other methods can be used because of the relatively high cost associated with CT scans. Another drawback of using CT scans is that the patient is exposed to small amounts of radiation.
Ultrasound imaging is another useful tool when diagnosing kidney stones. Ultrasounds can detect the presence of a swollen kidney, which suggests that there is some type of obstruction in the bloodstream just past the kidney. Many hospitals and physicians will use ultrasound techniques first when diagnosing kidney stones because it is relatively inexpensive and poses no severe risks.
Herbal and Home Remedies to Treat Kidney Stones
Kidney beans have long been regarded as one of the most effective home remedies for kidney problems. A common mixture is to boil the inside pods of the beans in water for six hours and then straining the liquid and allowing it to be cooled. Patients should drink this mixture every two hours for 1 to 2 days.
Basil and celery are vegetables that are helpful in fighting against kidney stones and other kidney related problems. Apples, grapes, pomegranates, and watermelon are fruits that have essential vitamins and minerals used to keep your kidneys healthy.
Scientists have shown that vitamin B6 and pyridoxine are effective treatments of kidney stones. Physicians recommend doses of roughly 100 milligrams of vitamin B6 and other forms of vitamin B be taken to cure kidney ailments.
Pharmaceutical Treatments for Kidney Stones
Kidney stones are generally known to pass through the body’s digestive system within 48 to 72 hours on their own, though often cause excruciating pain. Because kidney stones can pass through the body without help, most medications prescribed to patients are pain killers.
Narcotics can be prescribed to help reduce pain if over-the-counter medicines do not allow for pain relief.
Scientists have been able to create several medications that can speed up the process of passing a kidney stone. The most common form of prescription medication is what is known as a “calcium channel blocker”, typically nifedipine. Nifedipine is known by product names such as Adalat, Procardia, and Nifediac.
Alpha-blockers are also used in treatment of kidney stones. A common alpha-blocker is the prescription drug Flomax.
A non-invasive procedure called lithotripsy is often used to break up larger kidney stones. Lithotripsy involves the use of shock waves to break large kidney stones into smaller pieces that can be more easily passed through the urinary tract and urinary system.
Surgical Treatments for Kidney Stones
Several surgical techniques can be used to treat kidney stones, but are typically only used in the case of extremely large buildups accompanied by intolerable pain. The operation is often avoided because of the costs of performing any type of surgery. Kidney stone surgery allows the surgeon to enter the urinary tract through a small incision in the skin and remove the crystalline buildup and kidney stones. An instrument that is called an ureteroscope is allowed to enter the ureter through the urethra and bladder.
Risks associated with this type of operation are small compared to other types of surgeries, because it is not extremely invasive. However, as with any surgery there is always the risk of complications due to heavy bleeding or a poor reaction to anesthesia.