Kidney Stones and You

Kidneys filter waste from the blood and create urine. Sometimes, salts and other minerals in urine stick together to form small kidney stones. These range from the size of a sugar crystal to a ping pong ball, but they are rarely noticed unless they cause a blockage. They may cause intense pain if they break loose and push into the ureters, the narrow ducts leading to the bladder.

Kidney stone facts
  • A kidney stone is a hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract.
  • Nephrolithiasis is the medical term for kidney stones.
  • Kidney stones form when there is a decrease in urine volume and /or an excess of stone-forming substances in the urine.
  • Dehydration is a major risk factor for kidney stone formation.
  • Symptoms of a kidney stone include flank pain (the pain can be quite severe) and blood in the urine (hematuria).
Causes Kidney Stones?
  • Drinking too little water
  • Eating a lot of protein, sodium, and high oxalate foods, such as chocolate or dark green vegetables, can boost the risk for kidney stones in some people.
  • Putting on weight and taking certain medications.
  • Family history of kidney stones
  • Some medical conditions such as high blood pressure, gout, urinary tract infections
  • Living in a hot climate and dehydration

Kidney Stone Analysis

Once a kidney stone has passed or been removed, doctor may want to know what it's made of. Nearly 80% of kidney stones are calcium based. The remainder are made primarily of uric acid, struvite, or cystine. A chemical analysis can determine which type of stone you have. So, you can take steps to prevent new ones from forming in the future.

Kidney Stone Symptoms
  • Severe pain in the back, belly, or groin
  • Frequent or painful urination
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Small stones may pass without causing symptoms.
Diagnosing Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are rarely diagnosed before they begin causing pain. There are number of tests can uncover the stones. These may include a CT scan, X-rays, ultrasound, and urinalysis. Blood tests can help look for high levels of minerals involved in forming kidney stones.

Sizes of Kidney Stones

The smaller the kidney stone, the more likely it will pass on its own. If it is smaller than 5 mm (1/5 inch), there is a 90% chance it will pass without further intervention. If the stone is between 5 mm and 10 mm, the odds are 50%. If a stone is too large to pass on its own, several treatment options are available.

Small Stones

If a kidney stone seems small enough, you will be advised to take pain medicine and wait for the stone to pass out of the body on its own by your doctor.  As well as your doctor may recommend you to drink enough water and fluids to keep urine clear.

Medical Treatments

Drugs known as alpha-blockers relax the walls of the ureter. This widens the passages so a stone can fit through more easily. Side effects are generally mild and may include headache or dizziness.

Other types of medications can help prevent new stones from forming.

Shock Wave Therapy

The most common medical procedure for treating kidney stones is known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). This therapy uses high-energy shock waves to break a kidney stone into little pieces. The small pieces can then move through the urinary tract more easily. Side effects can include bleeding, bruising, or pain after the procedure.


When a stone has made its way out of the kidney and is close to the bladder, the most common procedure is ureteroscopy. A thin tube is passed through the urinary tract to the location of the stone. A surgeon breaks up the stone and removes the fragments through the tube. No incisions are made in the body. For very large stones, surgical procedures may be needed.

Preventing Future Kidney Stones

  • Cutting back on salt and sodium, which cause the body to dispense more calcium into the urine. 
  • Avoid high oxalate foods, including chocolate, instant coffee, tea, beans, berries, dark leafy greens, oranges, tofu, and sweet potatoes. 
  • Drink enough water to keep urine clear.

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