Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

When there is inadequate liquid to dilute salts and waste chemicals found in urine, hard masses called kidney stones may form in the kidneys. The stones can form in one or both kidneys and may vary in size, ranging from a tiny sugar crystal to a large golf ball. While kidney stones are hard to notice, a stone can be large enough to cause blockage or severe pain, particularly when it enters into one of the ureters. Kidney stones are a common condition in the United States, affecting up to 9 percent of the population and sending more than 500,000 people to emergency rooms every year.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

While very small kidney stones may just pass through the urinary tract without causing symptoms, a majority of people who seek medical care for the condition do so because of severe pain on the flank, which may extend to the belly, groin or back. The movement of kidney stones through the urinary tract also may cause extreme pain that does not go away, painful urination, blood in urine, chills, fever, nausea and vomiting. When experiencing such symptoms, it is important to see a doctor as soon as possible for prompt medical attention.

Causes of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones occur when there is inadequate liquid to dilute the waste chemicals found in urine, such as oxalate, calcium and phosphorous. When not properly diluted, the waste chemicals get more concentrated and form crystals. The most frequent type of stones is calcium oxalate crystals. While there are many factors that can trigger the formation of kidney stones, including what you drink and eat and chronic medical conditions, the most common cause is dehydration. For instance, people living in hot climates are more likely to lose a lot of water in sweat, resulting in limited amounts of fluid available to dilute urine. The frequently high concentration of urine in such people can trigger kidney stones.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are often diagnosed once they have caused obvious symptoms, usually severe pain. The pain is typically so severe that it can send patients to emergency rooms where a range of tests may be conducted to uncover the stones. Apart from the symptoms, kidney stones are diagnosed using tests such as X-rays, CT scan, urinalysis and ultrasound. Blood tests to determine the levels of various minerals involved in stone formation also can unearth kidney stones.

Treatment of Kidney Stones

For small stones, no treatment is necessary. You may only need to take pain medications and wait for the stones to pass out. A stone that is 5mm (1/5 inch) or smaller has a 90 percent chance of passing without intervention while one between 5-10mm has a 50 percent chance of passing. To increase the chance of a stone passing on its own, it is important to drink a lot of fluid every day, such as 8-10 glasses of water daily. A stone that is larger than 10mm may not pass on its own and may require either a non-invasive or invasive treatment to remove it.

Prescription medications may be used to facilitate the passage of some stones that do not pass on their own. For example, alpha-blockers can be used to relax the walls of the ureters and widen the passages to allow the stones to move out easily. Certain medications also may be used to stop the formation of new stones.

Apart from using drugs, the surgeon can pass a special instrument called the ureteroscope through the urinary tract to reach the stone’s location. The surgeon then applies laser energy to break the stone into smaller fragments and remove them through the tube. The procedure is called ureteroscopy and it does not require incisions.

Another commonly used treatment for kidney stones is extracorporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL). This treatment is ideal for very large stones or for stones that have blocked the urinary tract. During shock wave lithotripsy, the surgeon uses a machine that generates strong vibrations (called shock waves) to break large stones into smaller pieces that can pass out through the urinary tract. However, for kidney stones that are extremely large, the surgeon may need to conduct a surgical operation to remove them.

A lot of technology is currently available to help diagnose, treat and manage kidney stones. The technologies are safe and effective, relieving the symptoms of kidney stones without causing problems to the patients. So if you are experiencing symptoms of kidney stones, visit your doctor as soon as possible to benefit from these latest technologies and get the necessary relief. You do not have to live with a problem whose solution exists. For more information on the diagnosis and treatment of kidney stones, visit the “Advanced Urology Institute” site.

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