Kidney stones can be an extremely painful condition with patients wanting relief as quickly as possible. One in ten people will experience kidney stones at some point in their lives, according to the National Kidney Foundation.
Kidney stones, also known as ureteral stones, are created when certain substances in urine – including calcium, oxalate and sometimes uric acid – crystallize. These minerals and salts form crystals, which can then join together and form a kidney stone. Kidney stones cause pain when they pass down and block the ureter, which results in urine backing up into the kidney.
Most patients with kidney stones have a propensity to form stones due to an excess of certain minerals and salts in their urine. Kidney stone disease is more common in young and middle-aged adults than in the elderly, and more prevalent in men than women. Medical evidence suggests that drinking too few fluids can exacerbate this chemical oversaturation of the urine, causing stones to form.
Symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Waves of sharp pain that start in the back and side, and move toward the groin or testicles (in men)
- Inability to find a comfortable position
- Nausea and vomiting with ongoing flank pain
- Blood in the urine
- The frequent urge to urinate
Sometimes an infection is also present and may cause these additional symptoms:
- Fever and chills
- Painful urination
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
Because the symptoms of kidney stones can also indicate signs of other urinary problems, your physician will confirm your condition with an evaluation that may include urine tests, blood tests and imaging tests, including a CT scan, an Intravenous Pyelgram (a series of X-rays using a contrast dye to highlight abnormalities, also called an IVP), or plain X-rays (KUB).
If your kidney stone is small, it may pass out of your body on its own, within a few days or weeks. Your physician may initially prescribe drinking plenty of water – at least three quarts a day – and a pain medication. Your physician may also prescribe alpha-blockers, medications that open the ureter and allow the stone to pass.
If complications develop, such as an infection or total blockage of the ureter, the stone must be removed. Depending on its size, type and location, the stone can be removed by one of several means:
- Ureteroscopy: A procedure whereby a thin telescopic instrument is inserted into the urinary tract to remove the stone.
- Lithotripsy: A procedure that uses high-energy shock waves to break up stones into tiny pieces, allowing them to pass through the urine. The Urology Group is one of the only providers in the nation to offer ultrasound technology ‘built in’ to its lithotripsy equipment, meaning the type and location of kidney stones are more easily pinpointed.
- Nephrolithotomy: A more invasive procedure in which a thin tube is inserted through an incision in the back. The kidney stones are removed surgically with a telescopic instrument working through this thin tube.
Many times during treatments for stones a tube called a “stent” is temporarily inserted into the ureter. The stent allows urine to pass down the ureter, bypassing blockage from either the stone or a swollen ureter. A stent can cause frequent urination, blood in the urine and sometimes, abdominal discomfort. The stent is usually removed after a week.
To learn more about Kidney Stones, visit WebMD's Kidney Stones Health Center.
Other conditions for which we can provide state-of-the-art care: