Healthy Living

What Causes Kidney Stones?

What Causes Kidney Stones?

Key Takeaways

  • Kidney stones form due to the build-up and solidification of certain materials in the urinary system. 
  • Family history, existing medical conditions, and recent surgery may lead to kidney stone development.
  • If you tweak your habits and live a healthier lifestyle, you can lower your risk of developing kidney stones.

Kidney stones are a common problem for many people. In the United States, kidney infection cases are usually due to kidney stones increasing in size over time. 

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are crystal ball-like substances that form in the urinary tract. These stones are usually found around the ureter, bladder, and the urinary tract. They usually start forming in the kidney and eventually move down the bladder and into the ureter.

How Do Kidney Stones Form?

Kidney stones form due to the build-up and solidification of certain materials in the urinary system. These substances include mostly ammonia, cysteine, uric acid, and calcium. The kidney is an organ that functions as a filter of excess substances from the blood. When there is excess of these chemicals in the blood, they fail to dissolve in the urine, leaving concentrated amounts in the urinary system.

These stones vary in shapes and sizes. Some of them are the size of a golf ball, while others are the size of a pearl. Another factor that increases the risk of developing these stones is insufficient fluid content in the body.

Types of Kidney Stones

To better understand the many causes of this infection, it is important to identify the types of kidney stones based on their causes.

Uric Acid Stones

This type of kidney stone is formed due to excess amounts of acid in the urine. This condition mostly affects men rather than women. Whenever a person takes high amounts of animal protein, they increase the quantities of acid in their urine. Animal proteins such as meat and fish contain purines, which can cause acidic urine. Individuals with gout or those undergoing chemotherapy are also at risk of developing kidney stones.

Calcium Stones

Calcium stones are very common in both men and women. This type of kidney stone is formed as a result of excessive calcium phosphate, oxalate, or maleate. This occurs when you eat foods that contain high amounts of oxalates such as peanuts, chocolate, and spinach.

Cysteine Stones

Cysteine stones are formed due to a genetic disorder known as cystinuria. This condition causes the leaking of cysteine into the urine. Cysteine is a type of acid which is formed naturally in the body. It is a rare condition that may occur in both men and women.

Struvite Stones

Struvite stones are caused by urinary and kidney infections. It is more common in women than in men. Struvite stones affect the urinary tract and form in larger sizes, which can cause an obstruction in the urinary tract.

Most Common Causes of Kidney Stones

Lack of water: This is the most common cause of kidney infections. All chemicals and acidic salts excreted by the kidney require to be dissolved as they pass through in the urine. Lack of water causes these materials to solidify; thus, forming kidney stones.

Obesity: Increased levels of fat in the body have been highly associated with the formation of kidney stones.

Family history: If a person in your family has suffered from kidney stones, there is a very high risk that you may suffer from the same condition.

Digestive infections and surgery: Whenever a person undergoes surgery, such as gastric bypass, or has severe inflammatory diseases in the stomach, it is likely to cause problems in the digestive process. The body is no longer able to absorb water and calcium; thus, kidney stones are formed.

Medical conditions: There are certain medical conditions that may put you at risk of suffering from kidney problems. Some of these conditions include hyperparathyroidism, renal tubular acidosis, and cystinuria. In addition, there are several medications that may cause kidney stones. These include:

  • Aspirin 
  • Antacids 
  • Diuretics (used to reduce fluid build-up)
  • Certain antibiotics
  • Certain antiretroviral medications (used to treat HIV)
  • Certain anti-epileptic medications

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

A kidney stone often doesn’t produce symptoms until it moves within your kidney or passes into the ureter, which is the tube that connects the bladder and kidney. When this occurs, you may experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Intense pain in the side and back region, right below the ribs
  • Severe pain in the groin and/or side
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain that occurs in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Red, pink, or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Frequent urination
  • White blood cells or pus in urine
  • Burning sensation while urinating
  • Fever and chills if infection is present
  • Nausea and vomiting

Prevention of Kidney Stones

Often, the prevention of kidney stones can be as simple as making a few minor lifestyle changes. However, if the condition runs in the family, it can be far more difficult to prevent the development of kidney stones. The following are some lifestyle changes that have been known to help in the prevention of kidney stones:

  • Drink water: You need to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water each day. Water dilutes the urine, which keeps minerals from concentrating and forming stones. When the urine is clear instead of yellow, the risk of stone formation is reduced.
  • Eat less oxalate-rich food: If you tend to form calcium oxalate stones, your doctor may advice that you restrict foods that are rich in oxalates.
  • Choose a low salt and animal protein diet: Reduce your intake of salt. Instead, opt for a salt substitute. Also, avoid animal protein as it increases the quantity of acid in the urine.
  • Eat calcium-rich foods: Diets low in calcium may put you at risk of developing kidney stones. Therefore, it is important to incorporate calcium-rich foods into your diet. However, do not opt for calcium supplements without consulting your doctor. Calcium supplements increase the risk of kidney stones. You may reduce the risk by taking supplements after meals.

The Bottom Line

In most cases, kidney stones can be preventable. If you tweak your habits and live a healthier lifestyle, you can lower your risk of developing kidney stones. Kidney stones can be a recurring condition; thus, it is important to follow preventative measures to avoid this painful condition.