Is your abdomen painfully swollen and tender? Do you feel intolerable pain while urinating? Does your lower back hurt? If your answer to any of the above questions is yes, it is possible that you may have a kidney stone. Kidney stones are the most common disorder of the urinary tract. Fortunately, a person suffering from kidney stones can know it soon enough. There are several signs that warn and indicate the formation of a stone in the early stage.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salt that form inside the kidneys. As we all know, kidneys filter waste from the blood and create urine. Sometimes, the salts and minerals present in the urine stick together and form small kidney stones. The size of the kidney stones can range from the size of a sugar crystal to a small sized ball. They are usually noticed when they cause a blockage and may cause intense pain if they break or are pushed into the urethras – the narrow ducts that lead to the bladder.
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
When the kidney stones are small in size, they may pass on their own without causing any pain. They may not cause any symptoms until stone moves around within the kidney or passes into the ureters. At that point, one may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Severe pain in the back and side, belly or groin
- Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
- Fluctuations in the intensity of pain
- Pain and difficulty while urinating
- Blood in the urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Frequent urination
- Abnormalities in urine
What are the causes of kidney stones?
There is no definite and single cause of kidney stones. But there are several factors that may increase the risk of having kidney stones. Kidney stones are usually formed when the urine contains higher amounts of crystal-forming substances such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid when compared to the fluid that can dilute them. Apart from this, kidney stones are formed when urine lacks the substances that prevent crystals from sticking together.
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
When a person is suspected to have kidney stones, the doctor will suggest undergoing the following diagnostics tests and procedures:
- Blood tests: Blood tests can reveal if there are high amounts of calcium or uric acid in the blood. Their results help to monitor the health of kidneys and check for other medical conditions.
- Urine tests: Urine tests may show if the person is excreting high amounts of stone-forming minerals or not enough stone-preventing substances.
- Imaging tests: Imaging tests like simple abdominal X-rays or dual energy computerized tomography are performed to diagnose kidney stones.
What are the treatments for kidney stones?
The treatment for kidney stones depends on the type of stone formed, size and the cause.
Small stones with minimal symptoms:
Usually, the kidney stones of small size don’t require any invasive treatment. To pass the small stones, the doctor may ask:
- Drink water: Having enough water like 2 – 3 liters per day may help the urinary system to flush out the stones.
- Pain relievers: People can experience discomfort when the stones move, to relieve the mild pain, the doctor may prescribe pain relievers.
- Therapy: The doctor may prescribe medication that helps to pass kidney stones, known as alpha-blocker. This helps the muscles of ureters to relax, helping to pass the kidney stones quickly and with less pain.
Large stones that cause symptoms:
Kidney stones that are large and cannot be treated with conservative measures require more extensive treatment. The procedures may include:
- Sound waves to break up stones: Depending on the size and location of the stones, the doctor may recommend a procedure called Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL). This procedure helps to break the stones into tiny pieces that can be passed in the urine.
- Surgery to remove large stones: A surgery is performed using small telescopes and instruments inserted through a small incision in the back to remove large kidney stones. During surgery, general anesthesia is given and the hospital stay required is two days to recover. This surgery is recommended to those in whom ESWL was not successful.
- Use of ureteroscope: To remove the smaller stones in the ureters or kidney, the doctor may use ureteroscope, a thin, lit tube with a camera. This scope is passed through the urethra and bladder to the ureters. After the stone is located, it can be either trapped or broken into smaller pieces that can pass in the urine.
Parathyroid gland surgery
Kidney stones can be caused by high amounts of calcium produced by parathyroid hormone. This hormone is produced by the parathyroid glands that are located on the four corners of the thyroid gland. Removing the growth of this gland reduces the production of calcium in high amounts and therefore stops the formation of kidney stones.
How to prevent kidney stones?
Making small adjustments in diet and lifestyle can help prevent kidney stones. These include:
- Stay hydrated by drinking enough water. This is the best way to prevent kidney stones. This helps to dissolve the urine salts that cause stones.
- Low-calcium diet can increase the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis. So, include foods that are a good source of calcium instead of taking calcium supplements.
- Less salt intake lowers the calcium levels in the urine and therefore lowers the risk of developing kidney stones. So, avoid food items that contain high amounts of salt.
- In some cases, oxalate, a natural compound found in food, that combines with calcium is present in the urine and forms kidney stones. Hence, limiting the consumption of oxalate-rich foods helps prevent the formation of kidney stones.
- Limit the consumption of animal protein. This helps lower the amount of urine acid that may cause both uric acid and calcium oxalate kidney stones.
- Regular intake of Vitamin C supplements may cause kidney stones, especially in men. Hence, limit the quantity/frequency of Vitamin C supplements to reduce the risk of kidney stones.