Kidney stones, or renal lithiasis, are small, hard deposits of acid and mineral salts that are located on the inner surface of the kidneys. In normal circumstances, these stones are diluted in the urine; however, when the urine is concentrated, the minerals may crystallize and stick together and solidify into a stone. Although painful, they do not usually cause any permanent damage.
The symptoms may not be felt until the stone moves into the tube connecting the bladder and the kidney. When it does, some of the symptoms that may occur are:
- Pain during urination
- Cloudy, bloody, or foul-smelling urine
- A persistent urge to urinate
- Nausea as well as vomiting
- Pain below the ribs as well as the lower abdomen and groin
- Fluctuations in the intensity of the pain
- Fever and chills, in case of an infection
Lack of fluids in the system
Your urine is likely to have higher concentrations of substances that can form stones if you do not drink enough fluids. You are also more prone to this condition if you live in hot and dry climate or exercise strenuously without replacing the lost fluids.
You are more likely to develop this condition if someone in your family has it too. You are also at risk if you have had this problem in the recent past.
Sex and age
People in the age group of 20-70 years are more vulnerable to this disorder. Also, men are more risk compared to women.
A diet that is high in protein and sodium, and low in calcium may increase your risk of developing some types of kidney stones.
You are more likely to experience this problem if you have been leading a sedentary life for a long period of time. This is because limited activity can cause your bones to release more calcium.
High blood pressure
The risk is doubled by high blood pressure.
Gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic diarrhea
Stone-forming substances are greatly increased by changes in the digestive process which affects the absorption of calcium in the body.
A blood analysis is the first test your doctor will suggest you to take if he suspects you are affected by this condition. This analysis is used to look for excess calcium or uric acid. He may also ask you for a 24-hour collection of urine to check whether you are excreting too many stone-forming minerals or too little inhibiting substances. Apart from the aforementioned tests, your doctor may also have one or more of the imaging tests listed below:
Using an abdominal X-ray, most of the kidney stones can be visualized. This test can also help judge the changes in the size of the stone over some time.
Computerized Tomography (CT) scan
This imaging test can evaluate acute kidney stones rapidly. It can also identify the stones regardless of its composition, and does not require the use of contrast dye.
Unlike X-rays, ultrasound combines high-frequency radio waves and computer processing to view your internal organs. This technique is safe, painless, and noninvasive, but it may miss small stones, especially if they are located in your bladder or in a ureter.
Intravenous Pyelography (Excretory Urogram)
The location of stones in the urinary system as well as the degree of blockage caused by a stone can be determined by this study. In this test, a contrast dye is injected into the vein in your arm, after which a series of X-rays are taken as the dye moves through your kidneys, ureters, and bladder.
Surgery is not always necessary to remove the stones. If the doctor thinks that the stone can pass on its own, and you can deal with the pain, he suggest drinking plenty of water. You should drink enough water to keep the urine clear. This means about 2 glasses every 2 hours while you are awake. Also, remember to inform your doctor if you have any liver, heart, or kidney disease and are on a fluid restriction.
Apart from the increased intake of fluids, you doctor may also prescribe medicines to relieve the pain as well as other medicines that will help you pass the stone in the urine. Some stones cannot be treated using the aforementioned treatment options. In such cases, surgical intervention becomes necessary. These procedures include:
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
This procedure is commonly used to treat kidney stones. As the name implies, shock waves are used in this procedure to break the stones into tiny pieces that later pass out through the urine. During this procedure, you might be partially submerged in a tub of water or you may have to lie on a soft cushion. Slight sedation or light anesthesia is usually given in this procedure because of the moderate pain caused by the shock waves.
This procedure is used when ESWL is not effective or the stone is very large. During this procedure the surgeon inserts a narrow telescope into the kidney through a small incision in your back. After this, the doctor may remove the stones, either by breaking them into pieces or directly.
Generally, this procedure is used to remove a stone that is lodged in the ureter. In this procedure, the surgeon passes a very thin telescopic tube called a ureteroscope in the urinary tract towards the stone's location. Once that is done, he uses instruments to remove the stone or break it up for easier extraction.
In this procedure, the surgeon makes a cut in the side of the belly in order to reach the kidneys and remove the stones. This surgery is rarely performed nowadays.
You may be able to prevent this condition by drinking more fluids and making changes in your diet. Consult a dietitian if you need help with your diet, and make healthy lifestyle changes.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.