Kidney Stone

This is a hard, solid substance that forms in the urinary tract. It often resembles a small pebble.

This is a hard, solid substance that forms in the urinary tract. It often resembles a small pebble.

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that are located on either side toward the back, just below the rib cage. One of the main functions of the kidneys is to filter the blood.

  • Filtering the blood removes wastes and extra water, which are then eliminated in our urine.
  • The urine flows down two tubes (ureters) to the bladder. It is stored in the bladder until it leaves the body when you urinate.

Kidney stones develop when crystals in the urine build up in the kidney and form deposits. These deposits can lodge anywhere in the urinary tract, They are generally yellow or brown in color, can be smooth or jagged, and can range in size from tiny to as large as a pearl. Although natural chemicals in the urine normally prevent this build up from happening, those chemicals may be ineffective if you have:

  • An underlying medical condition
  • Concentrated urine, usually the result of not taking in enough fluids
  • A change in the urine's pH (too alkaline or too acidic)
  • Low levels or lack of natural substances, such as citrate, in the urine

Kidney stones are stones that form in the kidneys.

Some types of kidney stones include:

  • Calcium stones are the most common. When you have calcium stones, there is an excessive amount of calcium in your urine. Calcium stones are not caused by having too much calcium in your diet. They may occur if your body absorbs too much calcium from your bones or the food you eat. This can happen if you have one of several medical conditions
  • Cystine stones are due to excess cystine crystals in the urine, most often due to a hereditary defect called cystinuria. (Cystine is a building block that makes up muscles, nerves and other parts of the body.) These kidney stones are rare, but can be very large and difficult to prevent.
  • Struvite stones are also called infection stones. These stones only develop in infected urine, which is usually very alkaline (the opposite of acid). These stones can become quite large and develop more often in women who have repeated urinary tract infections.
  • Uric acid stones mainly develop in men when their urine is too acidic. People who have uric acid stones often have a history of gout (a disorder that causes sudden, recurring attacks of painful arthritis). Certain types of cancer or chemotherapy treatment can also lead to uric acid stones.

Kidney stones generally develop over time. They do not always cause symptoms. However, symptoms usually develop when a stone blocks the flow of urine or moves within the ureter. These symptoms include:

  • Severe pain in the lower abdomen or one side of the back
  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

These symptoms can start quickly when the stones move in the ureters. They can also go away just as quickly if the stones are passed out in the urine or stop moving.

Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of kidney stones. (If your symptoms are severe, you may need to go to the emergency room or an urgent care facility.) They will perform a physical exam and may recommend some tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. These tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • Imaging studies, such as CT scans, x-rays or ultrasounds

An intravenous pyelogram (IVP) may be helpful in special circumstances. However, it is no longer the first test done. This is because there are other effective options, such as ultrasound, that involve no radiation exposure.

If it is determined that you have a kidney stone, treatment will depend on your symptoms and the chemical makeup of the stone. Some treatment options include:

  • Increasing fluids and allowing the kidney stone to pass out of the body in the urine. Pain medication may be needed while the stone is passing.
  • Changes in your diet may be recommended, depending on the type of kidney stone you have.
  • Medications may be given to dissolve the stone or help flush it out of the body.
  • Lithotripsy, which uses shock waves to dissolve or break up the stones so they can be passed out in the urine.
  • Surgical removal of the stone, or insertion of a stent to keep the ureter open, may be needed. This is especially true if the stone is too large, is causing severe symptoms or is completely blocking the flow of urine.

See a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of a kidney stone. These symptoms often require treatment at an urgent care center or emergency room.

  • Bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries, and hospitalizations).
  • Bring a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.
  • If your healthcare provider prescribes a medication for you, ask for a generic version. If your doctor thinks that a generic version is not right for you, ask for a medication on the lowest available tier of your Prescription Drug List (PDL).

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider:

  • What type of kidney stone do I have?
  • What are my treatment options? Are there any alternatives? What are the risks?
  • Are you recommending any tests? Will the test results change my treatment plan? If not, why do I need the test?
  • When might I start to see improvement in my symptoms?
  • Do I need to make any changes in my diet?
  • What are my follow-up plans? What symptoms should I report before my next appointment?

Make sure you understand your action plan, your treatment plan, any possible alternatives, and what medications are recommended (including possible side effects).


Also known as:

Stones in Kidney
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