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Monday, June 19, 2023

Kidney Stones: Avoid the Agony

Posted By: Advancing Care

Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like pieces of material caused by an excess of certain minerals in your urine. In the United States, about 11 percent of men and 6 percent of women develop kidney stones each year. These stones are small but mighty — they can range in size from a grain of sand to a pea, and even grow to the size of a golf ball in rare cases.

Here’s what you should know about kidney stones, how they’re formed and how to treat them.

Causes of Kidney Stones

Susmitha Dhanyamraju, MD
Susmitha Dhanyamraju, MD

There are four different minerals that can build up to cause kidney stones: calcium, uric acid, struvite and cystine. “The composition of your kidney stone can help your healthcare providers determine what the root cause was,” says Susmitha Dhanyamraju, MD, a nephrologist at WMCHealth’s MidHudson Regional Hospital.

  • Calcium oxalate stones, the most common type of kidney stone, typically occur when extra calcium that isn’t used by your bones goes to your kidneys and doesn’t get flushed out with urine.
  • Uric acid stones usually stem from eating a diet high in acid, which includes foods like fish, shellfish and meat.
  • Struvite stones can form quickly after an infection, like a urinary tract infection (UTI), and may indicate abnormalities in your urinary tract.
  • Cystine stones are rare and are usually associated with a hereditary disorder called cystinuria — a condition that causes cystine to leak through your kidneys and into your urine.

Certain conditions like hypertension, diabetes and obesity can also put you at an increased risk of developing kidney stones.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

The most typical signs of kidney stones include blood in the urine, urine that is cloudy or smells bad and pain in the abdomen or lower back. Kidney stones can also cause nausea and vomiting. “If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to go to the emergency department to be evaluated,” says Dr. Dhanyamraju.

“In the emergency department, we can perform a CT scan or ultrasound to see if you have kidney stones, and give you guidance on the next steps or treatment. But if you ignore your symptoms, you can develop serious complications as the stone can grow large enough to block the flow of urine and cause an infection or renal failure.”

Treatments for Kidney Stones

There are a number of treatments for kidney stones that depend on the size and location of your stone. If you have a small kidney stone, your doctor may encourage you to drink lots of fluid so you can pass it on your own. “If your doctor advises you to pass the stone, they’ll most likely give you a container to catch it,” says Dr. Dhanyamraju. “That way, your doctor can analyze the stone to see what caused it and give you guidance for the future.”

Bigger kidney stones may require lithotripsy, a non-invasive treatment method that uses sound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces so they can pass through your urinary tract. Significantly large kidney stones may be treated with percutaneous nephrolithotomy. This procedure uses a camera inserted into your kidney through a small incision to locate and remove the stone, sometimes using a laser to break it into smaller pieces before removal.

Preventing Kidney Stones

If you’ve had a history of kidney stones or your healthcare provider determines you’re at high-risk for developing one, they may suggest a 24-hour urine collection. “This test measures how much urine is produced in a day, the acidity (pH) of the urine and the amount of certain substances, such as calcium, sodium, uric acid, oxalate, citrate and creatinine,” says Dr. Dhanyamraju.

Prevention is based on your risk factors and the levels of minerals in your urine, but drinking plenty of water, exercising regularly and eating a low-salt diet are all ways to keep your kidneys healthy.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of kidney stones, a nephrologist or urologist can help. Learn more about nephrology at WMCHealth.