What are kidney stones and how do I know if I have them?

Woman holding her lower back in pain

What can be the size of a penny and more painful than childbirth?

If you guessed kidney stones, you are spot-on. Kidney stones can wreak havoc after forming in the kidney, causing intense pain and urine backup as the stone travels through the urinary tract to the ureter. 

"If you suspect that you or a loved one has a kidney stone, get medical attention right away," says Jack Lambert, M.D., a urologist with Riverside Urology Specialists Shore. "Smaller kidney stones might pass through your urinary tract without treatment, but larger kidney stones often require surgical intervention."

Your physician can diagnose kidney stones with blood tests, urinalysis or imaging tests. Treatment options can depend on the size and location of the kidney stones.

What are the risk factors for getting kidney stones? 

Kidney stones form by chemicals found in urine and typically develop without warning. However, there are a few key risk factors that contribute to kidney stone formation. Risk factors include: 

  • Dehydration 
  • Diabetes 
  • Diet that is high in salt, protein or sugar 
  • Digestive diseases 
  • Family history of kidney stones 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Obesity 
  • Previous digestive surgeries 

According to the National Kidney Foundation, more than half a million people visit the emergency room each year for kidney stones. Men have a 19 percent lifetime risk of having kidney stones, while women have a nine percent lifetime risk. 

What are the signs and symptoms of kidney stones? 

Kidney stone symptoms can come and go in waves – ranging from intense to vague pain in your sides or back – and include urinary issues. Signs that you might have a kidney stone include: 

  • Blood in urine 
  • Chills 
  • Cloudy urine 
  • Constant need to urinate 
  • Fever 
  • Inability to urinate or difficulty urinating 
  • Nausea 
  • Pain during urination 
  • Sharp, intense pain in sides, back, groin or lower abdomen area 
  • Vomiting 

How can I get rid of my kidney stone?

If you have a kidney stone, your physician will discuss treatment options based on your stone’s size and location. Kidney stone treatments include: 

  • Shock wave lithotripsy – shock waves break apart the kidney stone into smaller pieces, allowing them to pass more easily.
  • Cystoscopy and ureteroscopy – small imaging equipment inserted through the urethra to find the stone for removal. 
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy – a more significant surgery requiring anesthesia and a hospital stay. This surgery uses a nephoscope to locate and remove the kidney stone by inserting it directly into the kidney. 
  • Ureteral stent – a thin, flexible tube inserted into the urinary tract to help a stone pass or help urine flow. 

“If you’re trying to prevent another kidney stone, make sure to drink lots of fluids and cut down on protein,” says Dr. Lambert. “Limiting your salt intake and increasing your citrus consumption – such as grapefruit, lemons and oranges – can also help you avoid getting a kidney stone again.”  

Your physician might also request that you collect your urine 24 hours after your kidney stone has passed to make sure your urine output has returned to normal. 

Make an appointment with the Riverside urology team

The urology team at Riverside Health System is here for all of your urologic needs. Visit Riverside Urology Specialists Shore to schedule an appointment today. If you have urgent kidney stone symptoms, please call 911 or visit the Riverside Shore Memorial Hospital’s emergency department

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