Healthy Living

What are Kidney Stones: Get the Facts

What are Kidney Stones: Get the Facts

Key Takeaways

  • This is a condition in which ball-like crystals form in the urinary system.
  • Sometimes kidney stones make their way into the urethra and are passed out with urine.
  • Kidney stones can be grouped differently on the basis of their causes.

Kidney stones is a condition that's rate of infection is increasing every day especially in people aged between 20 and 40 years old. Statistics have indicated that around 20 percent of the world's population suffer from kidney stones. Among these, 20 percent are men while 10 percent are women. 

What are kidney stones?

This is a condition in which ball-like crystals form in the urinary system. The urinary system consists of the kidneys, the ureters, the bladder and finally the urethra. These ball-like crystals are formed as a result of solidifying of materials in the body, most of them being acidic salts and mineral salts. Kidney stones appear in different shapes and sizes. 

Kidney stones

How kidney stones form

The function of the kidney is to filter excess substances from the blood and pass them to the bladder where they are stored and later excreted as urine. However, when a person’s body has very high amounts of solid materials rather than liquids, it is not possible to pass all of them out as urine. Most of these waste materials filtered from the blood by the kidney include xanthine, urate, calcium, oxalate and phosphate. In normal conditions, these substances are supposed to dissolve in urine. But when there is little fluid in the body, upon being filtered, these materials start solidifying.

The formation of kidney stones is a clear indication of the importance of taking in enough water. These waste materials move down the urinary tract to the bladder and the ureter. As the stones move inside the body, they cause pain in the abdomen. Some of them make their way into the urethra and are passed out with urine.

Soldiers deployed to desert areas make up one category of people affected by this condition.

Kidney stone prevention

Types of kidney stones

Kidney stones can be grouped differently on the basis of their causes. There are several types of kidney stones which include:

  • Uric Acid Stones: This type of kidney stone is brought about by a high intake of purines in the body. When a person takes in too many animal proteins, which contain purines, they increase the amount of the chemical compounds in the body. These purine compounds do not dissolve easily and hence form kidney stones. Large amounts of purines are found in meat, especially in certain organs like the liver and kidneys. 
  • Calcium Oxalate Stones: These kidney stones are formed as a result of formation of Calcium Oxalate and Calcium Phosphate.
  • Struvite Stones: These are formed as a result of urinary infections.
  • Cystine Stones: Mostly, this is a condition found within families. There is leakage of the Cysteine from the system into the urinary system hence forming the stones.

Symptoms of kidney stones

The following are symptoms of kidney stones:

  • Pain in the lower back and the abdomen which mostly lasts between 40 to 60 minutes
  • Bad smell in the urine
  • Severe stomach ache that lasts for a very long time
  • Hematuria or blood in the urine - this is due to the rubbing of the stones against the wall of the urethra as they are passed out
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea and vomiting

How are kidney stones diagnosed?

There are several ways kidney stones can be diagnosed. They include: 

  • X-rays: This is a process that targets to identify presence of the stones more especially when they are many. It is a very effective method.
  • Ultrasound: It is not a very reliable method. It is used to identify a dilated ureter and kidney.
  • Laboratory tests: These are tests that are done to your blood and urine. They are meant to identify any other infection of the kidney and hematuria as well.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT scan): This is a type of test that helps in forming images. Such images are used to identify kidney stones.
  • Retrograde Pyelogram: This procedure uses a dye to find out whether a kidney stone is blocking the urinary tract. The doctor inserts a thin lighted tube (cystoscope) into the urethra, which carries urine out of the body from the bladder. Then they will insert a catheter through the cystoscope into the ureter to carry urine from the kidney to the bladder. Dye is injected through the catheter and X-rays are taken.

Treatment for kidney stones

  1. Use of shock wave lithotripsy - This procedure for treating kidney stones is generally resorted to when the stones cannot be passed in the urine. This is a process that is meant to break down the stones and enable them to be passed out in urine. The doctor uses sound waves though ESWL, which produces very strong vibrations that break down the kidney stones. It is an operation that has its side effects such as blood in urine and pain.
  2. Percutaneous Nephrolithonomy - Larger stones in the kidney may be treated using a procedure called Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL). In cases where ESWL is unsuitable, the PCNL may be suggested. A thin telescopic instrument called a nephroscope is used. A small incision is made in the back of the patient and the nephroscope is passed through it and into the kidney. The stone is either pulled out or broken into smaller pieces using a laser or pneumatic energy. 
  3. Drinking lots of fluids - This helps to dissolve the stones so that they are passed out in or as urine. These fluids should be mainly water.
  4. Surgery - It is a traditional method that is rarely used today. This is mostly used when there are very large stones in the body. During open surgery, an incision is made in the back of the patient and then the surgeon is able to access the ureter and the kidney to remove the stone(s).
  5. Use of a scope - In this method, a doctor passes a thin light tube (ureterscope) into the ureter to the bladder with a camera to identify kidney stones. Once they are identified, special tools are inserted to crush the stones so that they can pass out in or as urine, or remove them. A plastic tube called a stent will have to be inserted inside the urethra temporarily to allow the stone fragments to drain into the bladder. It also serves the purpose of relieving the patient from swelling and promote healing.
  6. Taking a diet rich in calcium. When the body is not provided with sufficient calcium through the diet, it produces it in huge amounts. This calcium combines with phosphates, oxalates and maleates to form kidney stones. Taking a calcium-rich diet will help the body prevent production of calcium.

Bottom line

Kidney stones can be a recurring condition. Once you have one stone, the chances of the condition coming back is 70 to 80 percent.