What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard mineral and salt deposits that can affect any part of the urinary tract. Of course, they can affect the kidneys, hence the name ‘kidney stones’ however they can affect the bladder as well as anywhere in between. Unfortunately, these painful stones do not have one single cause. There are several factors that may increase your risk of developing them.
What are the Risk Factors for Developing Kidney Stones?
Risk factors that increase your chances of developing these stones can include:
• Being overweight or obese
• Poor diet – Namely those high in sodium, sugar and protein
• Certain digestive disease – Such as inflammatory bowel disease
• Family history – If a family member had a bout of kidney stones, you are more likely to get them yourself
• Your history – If you have dealt with this condition yourself you are at an increase risk of developing one or more kidney stones again
What are the Different Types of Kidney Stones?
Before we get into how to treat kidney stones, we need to understand the different types of stones that can form. This is significant because the method of treatment and prevention of new stones depends on the type of stones you have. Various types of kidney stones include:
• Calcium stones – These are the most common types of stone. In fact, they account for 80 percent of stones. They develop due to calcium in the body.
• Uric acid stones – These are a bit less common only accounting for about 5-10 percent of stones. These stones form as a result of having acidic urine which can prevent uric acid from dissolving properly and result in a stone or stones being formed.
• Struvite/infection stones – Accounting for about 10 percent of stones this type of stone is linked to chronic urinary tract infections.
• Cystine stones – This type of stone often begins forming in childhood due to a rare metabolic disorder called cystinuria. This inherited disorder is characterized by the kidneys inability to reabsorb cystine (an amino acid) from the urine and when the amounts of cystine becomes high in the blood, it causes stones to form.
What are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
While a kidney stone might not cause symptoms until it begins to move or pass from your kidney into your ureter, you should still familiarize yourself with the common signs or symptoms of the condition. Additionally, it should be noted that pain may move to a different location or even intensify as the stone moves through the body. Symptoms to look out for are:
• Pain – Can be in the back or side or radiate down into the groin. It can come in waves and vary in intensity.
• Painful urination, or the persistent need to urinate
• Urine that is brown, red or pink in color
• Cloudy urine
• Foul-smelling urine
• Nausea or vomiting
• Fever and chills – Can be a sign of infection
How are Kidney Stones Treated?
As previously stated, the method of treatment depends on the type of stone. Additionally, treatment methods depend on the severity and the length of time of symptoms. A health care provider would help you decided which line of treatment is best for you and your condition. Treatment options include:
• Letting the stone pass by itself – Can take four to six weeks
• Medication – Used to relax the ureter making it easier for the stone to pass. Often used in conjunction with pain medicine and anti-nausea medicine
• Surgery – This may be done for a variety of reasons, such as:
1. The stone failing to pass on its own.
2. Severe pain that became too much while waiting for the stone to pass.
3. Being afraid the stone will start to pass and cause pain.
4. The stones causing repeated infections.
• Shock wave lithotripsy – SWL is done by focusing shock waves on the stones in the kidney or ureter causing the stones to break up into smaller pieces which makes them easier to pass.
• Ureteroscopy – URS involves the use of a tiny telescope, called a ureteroscope, to find the stones. Once the stones are located, they are grabbed by the device and removed.
• Percutaneous nephrolithotripsy – PCNL requires general anesthesia and is the best treatment for larger stones. An incision is done in the skin near the kidney to allow for the insertion of a telescope. Once the telescope is in place a secondary instrument is passed through it and is used to break up the stone and suction it out.
What are the Potential Risks of Treatment?
As we just discussed there are numerous treatment methods available for kidney stones however you should be aware of the risks as you consider your course of treatment with a licensed medical professional.
• Letting it pass on its own: You can try to let the stone pass on its own, but you should seek treatment if it does not pass within 4-6 weeks as because left untreated kidney stones can cause infections and urine build up which can cause more problems for the kidney.
• Medications – There are several medications used to treat kidney stones however finding the right one for you could take some time. For instance, Flomax is a popular medication, it even has great success rate, but it isn’t approved for use in women or children. You should always investigate the side effects of medications you are prescribed and any contraindications that may exist.
• Shock Wave Lithotripsy – This procedure is noninvasive; however, it only removes stones about half the time. This means the procedure might need to be repeated. Common side effects include cramps or blood in the urine.
• Ureteroscopy – This procedure involves being put under which you should be aware of if you have problems with general anesthesia. Furthermore, other possible problems are infection, bleeding or narrowing of the ureter.
• Percutaneous Nephrolithotripsy – While this surgery only takes around 20-45 minutes, you will probably be admitted to the hospital for a day or two. This surgery also includes the risk of infection, bleeding and even damage to the ureter, kidney, liver, bladder or bowel.
• Open Surgery – If your stone cannot be removed or crushed, open surgery might be an option. You will be put under for the procedure and will need to stay in the hospital for a few days. Also, the recovery time can take as long as 4-6 weeks.
Kidney stones can be an incredibly painful condition however there are many ways to treat or prevent the development of these stones. If you believe you may have formed a stone, you are encouraged to consult your doctor for a proper diagnosis and together you can decide on the best course of action for your situation. Finally, always be sure to ask about and understand the risks associated with each treatment method.