What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones, or renal calcium stones that are solid masses made of crystals. Kidney stones usually originate in your kidneys. However, they can develop anywhere along your urinary tract, which consists of these parts:
Kidney stones are one of the most painful medical conditions. The causes of kidney stones vary according to the type of stone.
Kidney stone disease is a crystal concretion formed usually within the kidneys. It is an increasing urological disorder of human health, affecting about 12% of the world population.
It has been associated with an increased risk of end-stage renal failure. The most common type of kidney stone is calcium oxalate. It is the most common disease of the urinary tract.
The symptoms of kidney stone are related to their location whether it is in the kidney, ureter, or urinary bladder.
Recognizing the symptoms and signs of a kidney stone
Kidney stones are known to cause severe pain. Symptoms of kidney stones may not occur until the stone begins to move down the ureters. This severe pain is called renal colic. You may have pain on one side of your back or abdomen.
In men, pain may radiate to the groin area. The pain of renal colic comes and goes, but can be intense. People with renal colic tend to be restless.
Other symptoms of kidney stones can include:
- Blood in the urine (red, pink, or brown urine)
- Discoloured or foul-smelling urine
- Frequent need to urinate
- Urinating small amounts of urine
- In the case of a small kidney stone, you may not have any pain or symptoms as the stone passes through your urinary tract.
Types of kidney stones
Not all kidney stones are made up of the same crystals. The different types of kidney stones include:
Calcium stones are the most common. They’re often made of calcium oxalate (though they can consist of calcium phosphate or maleate). Eating fewer oxalate-rich foods can reduce your risk of developing this type of stone. High-oxalate foods include:
- potato chips
However, even though some kidney stones are made of calcium, getting enough calcium in your diet can prevent stones from forming.
This type of kidney stone is more common in men than in women. They can occur in people with gout or those going through chemotherapy.
This type of stone develops when urine is too acidic. A diet rich in purines can increase urine’s acidic level. Purine is a colourless substance in animal proteins, such as fish, shellfish, and meats.
This type of stone is found mostly in women with urinary tract infections (UTIs). These stones can be large and cause urinary obstruction. They result from a kidney infection. Treating an underlying infection can prevent the development of struvite stones.
Cystine stones are rare. They occur in both men and women who have the genetic disorder cystinuria. With this type of stone, cystine — an acid that occurs naturally in the body — leaks from the kidneys into the urine.
Why kidney stones can be a problem?
Stones don’t always stay in the kidney. Sometimes they pass from the kidney into the ureters. Ureters are small and delicate, and the stones may be too large to pass smoothly down the ureter to the bladder.
Passage of stones down the ureter can cause spasms and irritation of the ureters. This causes blood to appear in the urine.
Sometimes stones block the flow of urine. This is called a urinary obstruction. Urinary obstructions can lead to kidney infection and kidney damage.
Pain relief may require narcotic medications. The presence of infection requires treatment with antibiotics. Other medications include:
- Allopurinol (Zyloprim) for uric acid stones
- Thiazide diuretics to prevent calcium stones from forming
- Sodium bicarbonate or sodium citrate to make the urine less acidic
- Phosphorus solutions to prevent calcium stones from forming
- Ibuprofen (Advil) for pain
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain
- Naproxen sodium (Aleve) for pain
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy uses sound waves to break up large stones so they can more easily pass down the ureters into your bladder.
This procedure can be uncomfortable and may require light anaesthesia. It can cause bruising on the abdomen and back and bleeding around the kidney and nearby organs.
Tunnel surgery (percutaneous nephrolithotomy)
A surgeon removes the stones through a small incision in your back. A person may need this procedure when:
- the stone causes obstruction and infection or is damaging the kidneys
- the stone has grown too large to pass
- pain can’t be managed
When a stone is stuck in the ureter or bladder, your doctor may use an instrument called a ureteroscope to remove it.
A small wire with a camera attached is inserted into the urethra and passed into the bladder. The doctor then uses a small cage to snag the stone and remove it. The stone is then sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Read More: SURPRISING SYMPTOMS OF KIDNEY FAILURE
- For the prevention of calcium oxalate, cystine, and uric acid stones, urine should be alkalinized by eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables.
- Taking supplemental or prescription citrate, or drinking alkaline mineral waters can prevent them too.
- For uric acid stone formers, gout needs to be controlled. With respect to cystine stone formers, sodium and protein intakes need to restrict.
- For prevention of calcium phosphate and struvite stones, urine should be acidified. In the case of struvite stones, acidifying the urine is the single most important step.
- Patients must receive careful follow-up to be sure that the infection has cleared. However, the current treatment modalities are not efficient to prevent urolithiasis, and further research is required.
- Proper hydration is a key preventive measure.
- It is recommended to drink enough water to pass about 2.6 quarts of urine each day. Increasing the amount of urine you pass helps flush the kidneys.
- You can substitute ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, and fruit juice for water to help you increase your fluid intake.
- If the stones are related to low citrate levels, citrate juices could help prevent the formation of stones.
- Eating oxalate-rich foods in moderation.
- Reducing your intake of salt and animal proteins can also lower your risk of kidney stones.
- Your doctor may prescribe medications to help prevent the formation of calcium and uric acid stones.
- If you’ve had a kidney stone or you’re at risk for a kidney stone. Do speak with your doctor and discuss the best methods of prevention.