Healthy Living

Do I Have Kidney Stones or Gallstones?

Do I Have Kidney Stones or Gallstones?

Key Takeaways

  • Kidney stone causes are wide and varied.
  • The gallstones are usually much larger than kidney stones.
  • Treatment of gallstones is relatively simple.

Kidney stones and gallstone cause severe pain, discomfort, and have a huge impact on quality of life. Although both are stones, they are entirely different and develop in different organs, consisting of various minerals.

Kidney stones

Contrary to the popular belief that kidney stone develop when one holds urine for an extended duration of time, the truth is, kidney stones form when the urine has high concentrations of calcium, uric acid, and oxalate. On the other hand, gallstones are toughened deposits of digestive fluid, how gallstones materialize is still not clear.

The kidney’s purpose is to filter blood and then produce urine. The gallbladder stores bile produced by the liver which helps in fat digestion and absorption.

A kidney stone is a solid mass consisting of tiny crystals from uric acid, calcium, and oxalate minerals. Gallstones are hard, pebble-like pigments or cholesterol deposits that develop in the gallbladder. Their sizes can vary from a golf ball to a grain of sand. One or more stones can be found in the gallbladder or kidney at the same time. Gallstones are likely to develop in Hispanic or Native American women who are 40 years or above and have diabetes. People with obesity and fast weight loss are also at risk. Kidney stones mostly occur more in men who are 40 years or above. The chance that an individual with one stone will develop another in ten years is 50%.

What are the causes of kidney stones?

Kidney stones are caused by several factors:

  • Obesity
  • Heredity
  • Diet
  • Ethnicity (Caucasians and Asians are more vulnerable)
  • Hyperuricemia
  • Pregnancy
  • Age
  • Calcium supplements
  • Digestive diseases

Causes of gallstone

Factors responsible for gallstones are:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Obesity
  • Crash diet
  • Oral contraceptives
  • Heredity
  • High fat diet
  • Staten drug

Kidney stone symptoms

Not all kidney stones have symptoms. The pain associated with kidney stones is described as a sharp cramping pain in the rear side, near the kidney. Symptoms include urine containing blood, nausea, and vomiting. Large stones stretch and irritate the ureter. They block urine and cause a lot of pain. However, these symptoms are only observed when the stones move in the kidney or pass through the urethra. Gallstones do not show symptoms (asymptomatic), but in some cases, there is nausea, restlessness, pain between ribs, pain in back and right shoulder, as well as sweating. People with gallstone experience the symptoms only when the stone blocks the duct.

The size of gallstones compared to kidney stones

Gallstones can be different in size and shape. Usually, small gallstones can grow to be big as a golf ball. One big stone or many small ones can be found in the gallbladder. Kidney stones also come in different sizes. A kidney stone can obstruct the ureter once it grows 3 mm and above in diameter. Many small stones (which are 5mm or less in diameter) can be passed spontaneously during urination. About half of the larger stones (5 -10 mm) are passed spontaneously.

Which type of stone has a higher risk? 

Kidney stones have a higher risk of developing than gallstones, because of the stress, and unhealthy eating pattern. A person having kidney stone has high chances of developing gallstone, and vice versa.

Types of stones

There are four types of kidney stones: 

  • Struvite stones: the stone is formed due to infection in the urinary tract.
  • Cysteine stones: These are only found in patients suffering from cystinosis, cystinuria and fanconi syndrome. 
  • Uric acid stones: found if you do not drink enough fluids or have high protein diet or have gout.
  • Calcium stones: these stones are found in the form of calcium oxalate. Fruits, vegetables, nuts, and chocolates have a high level of oxalate. Calcium phosphate is another type of calcium stone.

Gallstones comprise of two stones:

  • Pigment gallstones (bilirubin): This stone is developed if there is too much of bilirubin in the bile. They are usually red or black.
  • Cholesterol stones: These are common in patients with infected bile tubes, blood disorders, and liver disease. They are caused by undissolved cholesterol, and they appear to be yellowish.

Stone composition

Gallstones are made up of calcium carbonate, cholesterol, and calcium bilirubinate. They are hard lumps.

Kidney stones are made up of acid salts and minerals. They are hard crystalline structure

They differ in their position in the body. Both are asymptomatic until they grow too large after which the patients experiences unbearable pain.

How to diagnose stones

Ultrasound, CT scan, and intravenous pyelogram are all methods used to diagnose kidney stones. Nephrolithiasis is the medical term used to refer to kidney stones.

Jaundice, blood cholesterol test, cholescintigraphy, cholangiography and CT scan are used in gallstones diagnosis. Cholelithiasis is the term used to refer the presence of gallstones.

How to treat stones

For kidney stones, small stones can pass out by themselves. Until the stones pass out, the patient can take pain medication and drink liquids while still at home. Lithotripsy, a medical procedure used to remove the stone, can be performed in case the stone is obstructing the urinary tract or when the pain becomes too severe.

Lithotripsy, Ursodeoxycholic acid, cholecystectomy, and ERCP can be used to treat gallstones. There are no major changes in the digestive process after gallstones have been surgically removed.

Is there prevention for kidney stones and gallstones?

Kidney stone prevention

Some reasons can cause both kidney stones and gallstones. Kidney stones can be prevented in the majority of people. There is, however, no absolute guarantee that gallstones can be avoided although there are a lot of precautions you can practice to lower your risk. Staying hydrated is the best prevention measure for kidney stones. Always drink lots of water and keep off from foods containing high contents of oxalate. Eating a healthy diet can lower your risk of gallstones. Keep off fatty foods or foods containing high levels of cholesterol that is saturated fats, sugar and carbohydrates. Include more vegetables in your diet, and add fiber as well. Losing weight will also help lower your risk.