Ten things you need to know about kidney stones

If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you may be all too familiar with the pain that is associated with them. If you’ve been lucky enough to never develop a kidney stone, understanding the signs and symptoms of one can help prevent pain, discomfort long-term damage to the kidney. Also, by learning the common causes of kidney stones, you can reduce your chances of experiencing one yourself.

Here are 10 things you need to know:

  • Developing kidney stones is very common. “Kidney stones affect upwards of 500,000 men and women every year in the U.S., according to the American Urological Association,” said Dr. Samit Soni, assistant professor of urology at Baylor College of Medicine.
  • They come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from a grain of sand to a golf ball. They are small, hard crystals or deposits that form inside your kidneys when salts and other minerals in your urine bond together. Stones often vary in shape and size.

    samit-soni-photo
    Dr. Samit Soni
  • Pain is almost always associated with kidney stones. Some stones stay in the kidneys causing little to no symptoms, but others may pass through the urinary tract, causing painful symptoms as the stone moves down the ureter (the thin tube that leads to the bladder). “Some people are able to pass the stone without surgical intervention, but in other cases, surgery to remove the stone may be necessary,” Soni said.
  • There are four common types of kidney stones: Calcium stones, uric acid stones, struvite stones, and cystine stones. Calcium stones are by far the most prevalent and often caused by excessive salt intake, low urine citrate, high urine oxalate, and other metabolic abnormalities.
    Uric acid stones may be caused by eating excessive animal protein. They are more common in people with conditions such as gout and inflammatory bowel disease. Struvite stones are related to recurrent urinary tract infections and are produced by bacteria. Finally, a rare genetic kidney disease called cystinuria typically causes cystine stones.
  • While anyone can produce kidney stones, certain people are more at risk for developing stones than others. A family history of stone disease, especially in first-degree relatives, puts you at a higher risk. Other risk factors are dehydration, diet, and obesity.
  • There are common dietary causes, including low fluid intake and overconsumption of salt and animal products.
  • Small kidney stones may cause no symptoms at all and small-sized stones can cause minor pain. Medium or large stones can result in severe pain that may land you in the emergency room. Those with a medium or large stone will experience severe pain usually in the side or back that may spread to the abdomen and down to the groin area. You may even experience painful urination, a frequent urge to urinate, blood in the urine, nausea and sometimes fever.
  • Passing a kidney stone is no easy task. Those with smaller stones are usually able to pass the stones through the urinary tract with pain relievers, and an increased fluid intake.
  • Prevention is key. To prevent a kidney stone from developing, stay well hydrated, decrease your salt intake, moderate your calcium intake and limit your consumption of animal protein. 

    You should also avoid heavy intake of oxalate-rich foods, including greens like spinach, kale, mustard and collard greens, as well as strawberries, rhubarb, chocolate, tea and nuts. Increase your intake of potassium-rich citrus foods such as lemons, oranges and grapefruits, both as the whole fruit and as juice.

  • If you are prone to developing kidney stones, understanding long term care can help decrease your odds of developing one. Soni recommends regular testing and a thorough medical evaluation including blood work and 24-hour urine collection. “I suggest regular medical exams to ensure your body is not producing more kidney stones, which may include imaging of your kidneys via X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan. Changes to diet can help prevent stones from forming in the future. There are also medications that help reduce kidney stone formation,” he said.

Additional Resources

To visit with a Baylor urologist, schedule an appointment online or call 713 798-4001.

Learn more about stone disease.

-By Jeannette Jimenez

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