What Are Kidney Stones? - UPMC

What Are Kidney Stones?

It is estimated by the HSE that renal colic, the severe pain caused by a kidney stone, affects about 10-20% of men, and 3-5% of women in Ireland. But what are kidney stones and how do they form?

Kidney Stone Basics

Kidney stones are stone-like lumps made up of crystals, commonly calcium and oxalate substances, that form in your urine and build on the inner lining of your kidneys. Not drinking enough water is the most common cause of kidney stones.

Other risk factors include:

  • Crohn’s disease
  • Cystinuria
  • Intestinal surgery
  • Family history
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Medullary sponge kidney
  • Renal tubular acidosis
  • Urinary tract infections

Kidney stones can be a variety of sizes, textures, and colours. They can be as small as a grain of sand, comparable to the size of a pearl, or as large as golf balls. Kidney stones can be smooth or jagged, and they are typically yellow or brown in colour.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones

The most common symptom of kidney stones is severe pain that starts and goes away suddenly in your flank, side of your back, or down to your groin area. If you are experiencing intense pain in these areas, it is suggested that you seek medical attention so a diagnosis can be made. Other symptoms may include blood in the urine, chills, fever, or nausea and vomiting.

Typical methods of diagnosis include a physical exam, and one or more testing methods, such as:

  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal x-rays
  • Blood tests
  • Kidney function tests
  • Kidney ultrasound
  • Urinalysis

Treating Kidney Stones

If you have small stones, you may be sent home because these typically pass through your system on their own. Getting the stone to pass can be painful, so pain medications may be suggested by your doctor. Other medicine may also be given to help the stone pass. You should drink plenty of water to produce a large amount of urine to make the passage easier. Your doctor will most likely request that you strain your urine so that the stone can be tested.

Certain types of stones, such as those made of uric acid, can often be broken down with medications. Treatments for larger stones can involve minimally invasive surgical removal, which can be performed by one of the experienced urologists at UPMC.

Although painful, kidney stones can be removed without long-term damage. Unfortunately, one incidence increases your future risk for stone recurrence, so an individualized approach aimed at both treatment and prevention is important.

If you have questions about your urologic health or are experiencing symptoms associated with kidney stones, contact one of our experts at UPMC Whitfield Hospital or UPMC Kildare Hospital here.

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