Kidney stones are mineral and salt deposits that form within the kidneys. They are also commonly referred to as renal calculi and the conditions nephrolithiasis or urolithiasis. Many factors contribute to the formation of kidney stones, including diet, body weight, certain pre-existing medical conditions, and side effects of some medications.
These stones can adversely affect any part of the urinary tract. When urine becomes concentrated in the kidneys, minerals therein have the chance to crystallize. When these stones pass through the urinary tract, they can cause severe pain. In most cases, there is no injury or other severe damage.
In some cases, the only required course of action is to increase fluid consumption to aid passing. However, the stones can become stuck in the urinary tract, which will lead to further complications. Kidney stones can be a recurring condition in some patients, and preventative measures are typically prescribed for these individuals.
Kidney stones typically only manifest symptoms once they begin to pass through the urinary tract. Observable symptoms include:
- Severe pain below the ribs in the side or back
- Pain while urinating
- Pink or red urine
- Frequent urination
The pain that accompanies kidney stones can change location as the stones travel along the urinary tract.
The most effective method for diagnosing kidney stones is imaging testing. The dense mineral deposits appear readily through a variety of imaging methods, including dual-energy computerized tomography. These methods can detect even tiny stones.
A urine test can reveal the extent of stone-forming minerals in the urine, indicating the concentrations in the kidneys. Too much can mean significant concentrations in the kidneys, while too little can show that stones crystallize and retain minerals in the kidneys.
Patients may be asked to urinate using a filter that will capture their kidney stones. Analysis of the stones will allow a physician to determine the cause of the kidney stones and formulate a treatment or prevention plan.
The treatments used for kidney stones vary widely based on the severity and frequency of the stones, along with their cause. The majority of kidney stones do not call for any invasive treatment.
Treatment for Small Kidney Stones
In many cases, a physician will prescribe that the patient drink significant quantities of water, up to a gallon per day. That will keep the concentration of minerals in urine low, reducing the risk of crystallization.
In cases where pain is present, over-the-counter pain relievers can be used for relief. Doctors can also prescribe medications to ease the passing of kidney stones, notably alpha-blockers that relax the muscles within the urinary tract.
Treatment for Large Kidney Stones
When kidney stones are too large to pass, they may cause kidney damage, bleeding, and urinary tract infections. Depending on the location of the stone, your doctor may recommend a variety of procedures. For stones in the kidney, shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy and laser lithotripsy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy are all options depending on size and location of the stone, patient anatomy, and a variety of other factors including medications, body habits, and stone density. For ureteral stones that appear too large to pass, ureteroscopy is often the favored method of treatment.