Kidney stones explained

Kidney stones are hard deposits of salt and minerals that form inside your kidneys. These deposits are also known as renal lithiasis or nephrolithiasis and can affect any part of your urinary tract, between your bladder and kidneys. Kidney stones form when minerals crystallise and stick together in concentrated urine. There are a number of causes.

The biggest risk factors for developing kidney stones are:

  • dehydration
  • obesity
  • diets high in salt, sugar or protein
  • digestive diseases and gastric bypass surgery
  • diseases such as cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, serious UTIs, renal tubular acidosis and some medicines
  • a personal or family history of kidney stones.

There are four main types of kidney stones. Struvite stones can be large and fast growing. They usually form as a result of an infection such as a UTI. Cystine stones occur in people with a rare hereditary disorder that causes their kidneys to produce too much cystinuria, a type of amino acid. Uric acid stones may form in people whose diets are too high in protein, have gout and lose too much or drink too little fluid.

The most common type of kidney stones are calcium stones. Oxalate is produced by your liver and can be found in foods such as nuts, fruit, vegetables and chocolate. The amount of calcium oxalate found in your urine can be increased by factors including metabolic disorders, intestinal bypass surgery or too high a concentration of vitamin D. When the concentration of calcium oxalate is too high in urine it can form kidney stones.

Symptoms include:

  • pain coming from your lower abdomen or groin
  • pain when urinating
  • increased need to urinate
  • cloudy and smelly urine (brown, red or pink in colour)
  • severe kidney pain (on the sides of your back, below your rib cage)
  • fluctuating waves of pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • fever and chills
  • only being able to urinate small amounts.

More serious symptoms that require medical attention include:

  • blood in your urine
  • severe pain accompanied by fever and chills (indicating an infection)
  • severe pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • finding it difficult to pass urine
  • severe pain making it hard to sit still.

If kidney stones are recognised early on, they are unlikely to cause any permanent damage. While often painful, drinking water and taking pain medication may be all that is required to safely pass a kidney stone. However, if the urinary tract becomes infected or a stone becomes lodged in it, surgery may be required.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Liv Gardiner

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