Kidney Stones are a painful and common condition

If you have ever passed a kidney stone, you might think of it as the most painful non-life threatening condition a person can endure. Kidney stones are chemical crystal masses that develop in concentrated urine in the kidneys. If they move into the urinary track, they will cause a significant amount of pain. In most cases, they will either dissolve or be eliminated from the body on their own. They can also be treated medically with non-invasive procedures and medications.

What are Kidney Stones?

Kidney StonesKidney stones are chemical crystals that form in the kidney, ureter or bladder of an individual. These “stones” may develop to different sizes and shapes, from tiny microscopic crystals to relatively large masses. They can occur at any age and are most prevalent between the ages of 20 to 40, the years during which most patients first pass a stone. A person who previously passed a kidney stone has an almost 50% chance of developing another one, especially within ten years of the first one. One in every 20 women might develop a stone while three in every 20 men might experience this problem.

What are the causes of Kidney Stones?

The kidneys are the body’s filter for the blood, cleaning it of impurities. They work to remove waste chemicals and excess water from the blood and the body. This process produces urine. The ureter is a tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. When the bladder is full, urine flows out of the body through the urethra. Waste chemicals that have been filtered and flushed out by the kidneys dissolve in the urine. However, sometimes these chemicals form tiny crystals which clump together in the urine to form a small mass known as a kidney stone. Kidney stones that develop and remain in the kidneys cause no symptoms and produce no physical problems. Individuals may not even be aware that they have one.

Stones have a greater chance of being produced when a person’s urine is concentrated from dehydration. Concentration occurs when someone exercises vigorously, lives in a hot climate, or works in a hot environment. These situations create conditions in which the individual loses more fluid through sweat than through urine, greatly concentrating the remaining urine. Some medical conditions may also cause kidney stones, but this is far less common. Individuals with a family history of kidney stones are more prone to developing them.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

Kidney StonesWhen kidney stones are present, a person may experience one or more symptoms, including significant pain (felt in the side and lower abdomen), renal colic (pain that peaks and ebbs, caused by the contraction of the ureter trying to move a blocked stone through the urinary tract), the urge to urinate more frequently, pain when urinating, and blood in the urine. In more severe cases, the blockage leads to an infection which brings on a fever.

Kidney Stone Treatments

Drinking plenty of water to increase urine flow in order to pass the stone out of the body is usually the first course of treatment. The medications Nifedipine or Tamsulosin can be prescribed to help pass stones. Large stones that become stuck in the ureter can cause extreme pain and may even require a trip to the hospital.
Non-invasive kidney stone removal procedures include:

  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) – breaking stones with shock waves
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) – a nephroscope breaking through the skin to the kidney in order to fragment and remove the stone
  • Ureteroscopy – entering through the urethra to access the kidney for stone removal
  • Open surgery done only if other procedures fail or a stone is very large

Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones

To prevent the re-occurrence of kidney stones, it is important to drink plenty of fluids daily to keep the urine dilute and prevent stones from forming in the first place. When the chemical composition of the stone is known, a dietician can recommend dietary changes to prevent the buildup of offending chemicals. Some types of kidney stone, such as uric stones, can be prevented with certain medications.

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