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Kidney Stones Overview

Overview

Kidney Stone Illustration

Have you ever heard that passing a kidney stone is more painful than giving birth? Each year, more than 1 million people in the U.S. rush to the emergency room with pain caused by a kidney stone.

Kidney stones (Renal Lithiasis, Nephrolithiasis) are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. It is estimated that nearly 1 in 11 people will develop kidney stones sometime during their life.

Kidney stones have many causes and can affect any part of your urinary tract — from your kidneys to your bladder. Often, stones form when the urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together.

 

Symptoms

A kidney stone may not cause symptoms until it moves around within your kidney or passes into your ureter — the tube connecting the kidney and bladder. At that point, you may experience these signs and symptoms:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain on urination
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present
  • Urinating small amounts


Pain caused by a kidney stone may change — for instance, shifting to a different location or increasing in intensity — as the stone moves through your urinary tract.

 

Types of Kidney Stones

Kidney Stone Types Graph

Crystals make stones and their names signify the kidney stone types. The names of the crystals that make the stones are as follows: Calcium Oxalate, Calcium Phosphate, Uric Acid, Cystine, and Struvite. The slices in the above pie chart represent the relative distribution of stone types across the population. Calcium Oxalate stones are the most predominant type by a wide margin. 

The names/types matter because the whole science of stone prevention focuses on stone crystals. Each kidney stone crystal creates its own unique illness and requires specific treatment. This is why we name stones by the names of their crystals and why when stones are analysed the results are reported by these very same names.

 

Which Type Do You Have?

You might think your doctor knows what stones you have formed, but don’t rely on it. People move, doctors move, health records are far from ‘all electronic’. Your stone report from 4 years ago could be collecting dust in some filing cabinet and your new doctor is none the wiser.

That report could be hiding in some stray drawer at home. Even worse, the stones you passed with great pain may be in that same stray drawer, never analyzed at all. Find your old stones, find that report, and urge analysis by your physician. Physcians can help you most if they know your stone analysis.

When your medical team isn’t in the know, they can still try to mount prevention efforts, but it will be less focused and less effective than when guided by a knowledge of the crystals. Please get them the information that they need. Knowledge is power!

 

Why Should You Care?

You should care because if you’re anything like a majority of the population, you will conduct much of your own treatment over many years. Since stones tend to reoccur, prevention requires treatment over long periods of time. These treatments work by altering urine chemistry in a direction that minimizes the risk of crystal formation. Effective alteration of urine chemistry requires a mixture of diet changes, fluid intake control, and sometimes additional use of herbal remedies or medications.

 

Next: Calcium Based Kidney Stones

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