Everything You Need to Know About Kidney Stones
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidneys are vital organs found in the abdominal cavity. They filter waste excreted from the blood and produce urine. Urine contains minerals and salts. If these minerals and salts aggregate in the kidneys, they can form masses called “kidney stones.”
Kidney stones can range in size from just a few millimeters across to several centimeters in diameter. It is possible to have kidney stones without knowing it. They are only detected when they block the flow of urine through the ureter. Kidney stones in the ureter can be extremely painful.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
If you have kidney stones in your urinary tract, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Acute pain in the groin, lower abdomen, and back
- Burning sensations or pain when passing urine
- Streaks or spots of blood in your urine
- Dizziness, fever and vomiting
Most times these symptoms pass quickly if the stones are small enough. Small kidney stones pass out of the body with your urine. If the stones are larger, the problem can become more serious with the added risk of infection.
How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Stones?
The sudden onset of extreme pain in the abdomen or the lower back, or pain urinating, perhaps with blood in the urine, are the usual first symptoms of kidney stones. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. While these symptoms may indicate other disorders, such as an ectopic pregnancy, inflammation, or a urinary tract infection, they are all serious and need treatment.
How Are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
As pain indicates the problem, it’s rare to diagnose kidney stones before they have grown to a size which needs intervention. The pain is severe and most patients go to the emergency room. CT scans, ultrasound, X-rays and analysis of the urine are all used to find kidney stones. Sometimes, the doctor may take blood to test for minerals and salts.
How Are Kidney Stones Treated?
The treatment prescribed for kidney stones will depend on their size and how much pain you feel. If the stones are small, your doctor may recommend taking painkillers and waiting to see if they will pass out without intervention. You should drink plenty of water, up to ten glasses a day, to help flush them through your system.
If your kidney stones are too large to pass through the ureter, a range of medical treatments are possible. Your doctor may prescribe oral medication to soften the ureter wall and allow the stones to pass more easily. If the treatment is successful, the doctor may offer other medicine to stop kidney stones reforming.
Another possibility is shock wave therapy, which uses focused shocks of ultrasound to break up the stones. This procedure is non-invasive, as the waves pass through the body and only damage the kidney stones. But you might feel discomfort in the first few days after the treatment.
If your kidney stones have progressed to the bladder, you may need an operation called an ureteroscopy. In an ureteroscopy, the doctor inserts a tube into the urinary tract. At the end of the tube a tiny camera and a light help the doctor locate the stones. Tiny instruments extend from the tube and the doctor uses them to crush up the stones, sucking the fragments out through the tube.
In the most severe cases involving large stones, it may be necessary to remove them surgically. You will have a general anesthetic. The surgeon will cut open the lower abdomen and remove the stones before suturing the wound. You can return home after a short recuperation in hospital.
What Can You Do to Avoid Kidney Stones?
Dehydration can cause kidney stones, so drinking plenty of water helps prevent them forming. Cutting down on salt, chocolate, and high-protein foods also helps lower the risk. Overweight people are more likely to develop kidney stones, so regular exercise and a healthy diet is a good idea.
Keeping yourself hydrated so that your urine is always clear, is the best way to guard against kidney stones. The condition can be extremely painful and if left unchecked can lead to more serious problems. If you suspect you may have kidney stones, always seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity.