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Kidney Stones

What are kidney stones? Kidney stones are small, hard deposits that form inside the kidneys from minerals and salt in urine. The kidney is responsible for filtering waste from the blood into urine. Sometimes, these minerals and salts can clump together into a stone.

What causes kidney stones to form? Certain factors can increase the risk of developing stones, like not drinking enough fluids, having a diet high in sodium, calcium or protein, or having a family history of stones. Medical conditions like hyperparathyroidism or recurrent urinary tract infections can also lead to stone formation.

Who is at risk for developing kidney stones? 

People with a family history of stones, who don’t drink enough fluids, have a diet high in sodium or protein, or have medical conditions like hyperparathyroidism have an increased chance of developing stones. Obesity and certain digestive diseases are also risk factors. Men tend to develop stones more than women.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stone symptoms include severe pain, changes in urination, nausea and vomiting. Pain often starts suddenly in the back or side and may move to the lower abdomen or groin. The pain can wax and wane, and may be accompanied by restlessness.

Urinary symptoms of kidney stones include blood in the urine, foul smelling or cloudy urine, burning with urination and a persistent need to urinate. Urinating more frequently or struggling to urinate at all are also common.

Other symptoms like fever, chills and vomiting may indicate an infection related to the stone. Seeking prompt medical attention for infection is important.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are a few different types of kidney stones. The most common is calcium stones, but struvite, uric acid and cystine stones also occur. Determining the stone type helps guide treatment.

Calcium stones form from extra calcium in urine combining with oxalate or phosphate. A diet high in sodium can increase calcium in urine. Struvite stones develop from a urinary tract infection, while uric acid stones form from too much acid in urine. Cystine stones result from a genetic disorder causing cystine amino acid to leak into urine.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

To diagnose kidney stones, doctors review your medical history and do a physical exam. Imaging tests like CT scans, ultrasounds or X-rays allow them to see the stones. Blood and urine tests help identify what minerals make up the stones and whether any infection is present.

Treating Kidney Stones

Small stones may pass on their own by drinking extra fluids to flush the urinary tract. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage discomfort. Some medications relax the ureter to allow stones to pass more easily. For larger stones that don’t pass, surgical procedures like lithotripsy use sound waves to break them up so they can pass.

In severe cases where stones block urine flow or cause infection, minimally invasive surgery like ureteroscopy to remove them may be needed. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy involves a small incision in the back to remove stones directly from the kidney.

Preventing Kidney Stones

Diet and lifestyle changes can help prevent more kidney stones. Drinking plenty of water each day and limiting sodium, protein and oxalate-rich foods may lower your risk. Some medications can help prevent various stone types.

Living with Kidney Stones

For people who have had stones before, steps like drinking more fluids, modifying diet and taking preventive medication can help avoid recurrence. Seeking prompt treatment for new pain episodes and urinary symptoms allows quick relief. Periodic imaging tests may monitor for new stones.


Kidney stones are a painful condition, but staying hydrated and making diet changes can lower your chances of developing them. Diagnosing stones involves imaging tests and lab work to identify their composition. Small stones may pass on their own, while medications or minimally invasive procedures can provide relief for larger ones. With proper prevention and treatment, kidney stones can often be well-managed.

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