A kidney stone is a hard, rock-like mass made of minerals in the kidney. Because kidney stones travel through the urinary system, they can also be found in the ureters and bladder.
Kidney stones develop from chemicals that are filtered by the kidneys. Usually, the chemicals within your kidneys balance each other. When they don't, crystals can form and build up on the inner surfaces of the kidney. If enough of these crystals clump together, they form a stone.
Small stones travel through the urinary tract and pass out of the body unnoticed. Unfortunately, some stones continue to grow within the body for months or even years. When they break off and travel into the ureter, they can cause extreme pain.
The sharp pain of kidney stones often begins suddenly and is felt in the back and side, in the area of the kidney or in the lower abdomen. Nausea and vomiting may also occur. The pain may also spread to the groin.
Kidney Stone Prevention
The National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Diseases recommends several ways to prevent kidney stones:
- Drink more water. By drinking up to 12 glasses of water a day you can help flush away the substances that form kidney stones.
- Limit caffeinated beverages to one or two cups per day. The caffeine in coffee, tea and sodas may cause a rapid loss of fluid that leads to kidney stones.
- Certain medications may be prescribed by your doctor to prevent kidney stones.
- With all dietary modifications, be sure to consult your physician.
Download our Kidney Stone Prevention PDF.
The first symptom of kidney stones is often sudden, extreme pain, usually in the back and side in the kidney area, or in the lower abdomen.
Other symptoms include the following:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the urine-may be visible or microscopic
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Burning sensation during urination
- Cloudy or odorous urine
- Fever and chills
Types of Kidney Stones
There are several types of kidney stones. Despite their differences, the symptoms they create and the way they are treated is usually very similar.
- Calcium stones. The most common form of kidney stone, accounting for 75-85% of cases.
- Struvite (infection) stones. Caused by urinary tract infections. Found more often in women.
- Uric acid stones. Made purely of uric acid, a by-product of protein metabolism.
- Cystine stones. The least common type of stone, found in about 1% of cases.
In most cases, your doctor will order one of more diagnostic tests to check for kidney stones. Tests may include one of more of the following:
- Blood and urine tests to help detect any abnormal substances that might cause stones to form.
- Intravenous pyelogram (IVP), a form of X-ray to provide pictures of the urinary system.
- Computed tomography (CT), or CAT scan, to provide detailed three-dimensional pictures of the affected organs.
- Renal ultrasound, which uses sound waves to create pictures of internal organs.
Receiving proper treatment for kidney stones is important, as kidney stones not only cause pain, they can also damage kidneys by blocking the flow of urine and causing bleeding and infection. Smaller stones can block the flow of urine through the ureters and urethra, causing urinary tract infection and other damage.
The University of Rochester Medical Center offers the following treatments for kidney stones:
- Extracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is a non-invasive treatment. Powerful shockwaves are directed toward the locations of the kidney stones, breaking them up into smaller stones that will be able to pass from your urinary tract.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy is a surgical approach used on larger stones or when ESWL is not effective. Kidney stones are removed with a nephroscope that is inserted through a small incision in the back.
- Ureteroscopy (URS) is used when the stone is lodged in the ureter. The stone is removed with a small ureterscope that is passed through the bladder and into the ureter.
- Parathyroid Surgery may be performed when stones are caused by overactive parathyroid glands. A growth on the parathyroid gland may cause an excessive production of calcium, leading to the formation of kidney stones. Removing the growth usually solves this problem.
Kidney Stone Treatment Center
Our center has the latest technology for noninvasive as well as surgical treatment of
kidney stones. This includes two ESWL machines, which, due to recent advances, can now treat bariatric patients that previously could not be accommodated.
Learn more information about the Kidney Stone Treatment Center »