Everything You Need to Know About Kidney Stones- Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Understanding kidney stones involves peering into the intricate details of their formation, the subtle or sometimes glaring symptoms they present, and the variety of treatments available to reduce the associated pain and discomfort. The jagged, hard mineral deposits that can form in your kidneys can cause excruciating pain, and knowing how to identify and manage them is crucial in treatment and management. This guide highlights the causes, recognizable signs, and potential therapeutic approaches to manage kidney stones and enhance improve health effectively.

What are Kidney Stones?

A kidney stone forms as a solid particle from urinary chemicals comprising four main categories: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. Several treatment options to remove these stones are available, such as shockwave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy, percutaneous nephrolithomy, and nephrolithotripsy. People with kidney stones often experience intense lower back pain, blood in their urine, nausea or even vomiting, fever, chills, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, discomfort, and blood in the urine.

How Kidney Stones Develop

Urine contains many waste elements dissolved within it. When these wastes are too concentrated, crystals can start to develop. Over time, these crystals can grow, attracting other compounds and forming kidney stones. In many individuals, these stones are flushed out by the kidneys. The kidneys even flush out these chemical compounds, preventing these crystals from forming. Substances that contribute to stone formations are primarily calcium, oxalate, and others.

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Once these stones are formed, they may either remain within the kidney or travel. Small stones often move along the urinary tract without much distress. But if these stones don’t move, they can result in urine back-up. This blockage and irritation are what leads to pain.

Medications are even prescribed in case of smaller stones. These medicines help your system flush out the stones from the kidneys naturally. Due to their size, the small stones can easily pass through the urinary tract and exit the body via urine. 

What Causes Kidney Stone Formation?

Several factors can lead to the formation of kidney stones. These include not drinking enough water, inconsistent exercise habits, being overweight, undergoing weight loss surgery, or consuming foods high in salt or sugar. Some individuals might have a higher risk due to infections or a family history of kidney stones. Consuming high amounts of fructose, found in table sugar and corn syrups, has also been linked to a higher risk of stone formation.

Kidney Stone Prevalence

Every year, kidney stone issues lead over half a million individuals to emergency rooms. Roughly one in every ten individuals will encounter a kidney stone during their lifetime. Tracking the occurrence of cases over time in the United States alone reveals a rising trend. The late 1970s saw a 3.8% prevalence rate. This figure jumped to 8.8% by the late 2000s. More recently, between 2013-2014, 10% of the population had kidney stones. When dissecting the data based on gender, men have an 11% risk, while women have a slightly lower risk at 9%. In India the prevalence of kidney stones stands at approximately 12% and is relatively more common in the northern part of India, where it is 15%. It’s worth noting the interplay between kidney stones and other health issues. Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity can act as potential triggers. These ailments are known to increase the chances of developing kidney stones.


Kidney stones can be tiny, similar to sand grains, or as big as golf balls. The size often dictates the severity of the symptoms one might experience. Individuals might feel:

  • Intense pain at the lower back’s sides
  • A persistent and unexplained stomach ache
  • Seeing blood in the urine
  • Feeling nauseous or even vomiting
  • Experiencing fever and chills
  • Noticing urine with a foul odor or cloudy appearance

The discomfort from a kidney stone arises when it causes irritation or results in a blockage. Pain can be sudden and extreme. Some may find relief from pain medicines, while larger stones might require more intensive treatment. In situations where the stone causes prolonged symptoms or complications, surgical intervention might be necessary.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are four major stone classifications:

  • Calcium oxalate stones: It’s the most common kidney stone variety. When calcium interacts with oxalate in the urine, these stones are formed. Lacking adequate calcium and fluid, among other conditions, are the contributing factors.
  • Uric acid stones: Another common kidney stone variant. Consuming foods like shellfish and organ meats that are rich in compounds called purines causes a spike in monosodium urate. Under certain conditions, this leads to the formation of stones. Such stone formations can tend to run in families.
  • Struvite stones: These aren’t as frequent and develop from infections in the upper urinary system.
  • Cystine stones: These are rarely found and tend to be genetically inherited as they run in the family. 


Doctors will need your medical history, prescribe a physical examination, and imaging scans to determine if you have kidney stones. Diagnostic tests aim to find out the exact size and form of the kidney stones where these are best found by high-definition CT scans from the kidneys to the bladder, or a KUB x-ray (highlighting kidney-ureter-bladder).

Surgeons often lean on the KUB x-ray to decide if shock wave intervention is applicable. The KUB can be a tracking tool pre and post-treatment, but CT scans are generally preferred for diagnosis. For some individuals, post-dye injection, a special kind of x-ray, intravenous pyelogram or IVP might be prescribed.

Next, your medical team will plot the treatment course considering insights from your blood and urine tests which will guage your kidney health. What matters most is your own health and the size of the stone and location, of utmost importance to decide the course of treatment.

In due course, pinpointing the stone’s origin is necessary. After its natural exit or removal, the stone undergoes analysis along with blood samples to measure calcium, phosphorus, and uric acid levels. Additionally, you might be asked to store urine over 24 hours for specific tests.

The Treatment Options Available

Kidney stone management is relatively consistent across age groups- it doesn’t vary much between adults and kids. Drinking a good amount of water is the initial recommendation to help the stone exit naturally, without having to resort to invasive surgery. Some might receive medication containing common ingredients like potassium citrate to reduce urine acidity levels or to break or reduce the size of the stone. However, surgical removal becomes inevitable when a stone is too large, obstructs urine flow, or is associated with infections.

Treatments for kidney Stones:

  • Medication: for stones upto 4mm, doctors usually consider medication to reduce or break the stone after which it passes out in urine.
  • Shockwave lithotripsy: A non-intrusive procedure employs high-energy sound waves to fragment the stones. After this, they can exit the body via urine with relative ease.
  • Ureteroscopy: Involves inserting an endoscope through the ureter to fetch or destroy the stone.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy/nephrolithotripsy : For large tricky stones that cannot be tackled by other treatments.

What Should You Do If You Have a Stone?

Immediately see a doctor, specifically a urologist. They might suggest drinking more water, to begin with which might help pass the stone. Aim for at least 2 to 3 liters of water a day. Collect any passed stone and show it to your doctor if you can. In cse of larger stones, surgery might be needed.

Why Do Doctors Look at The Stone’s Makeup?

There are four types of kidney stones. Analyzing the stone reveals its cause. It helps prevent future stones. The most common type is calcium. Normally, everyone needs calcium in their diet, and the kidneys remove the excess calcium. However, some people retain too much calcium, causing it to pair with wastes like oxalate. This pairing forms a calcium oxalate stone.Kidney stones can cause chronic kidney disease. A past stone increases the chance of another. If you’ve had a stone, there’s about a 50% chance of another within 5-7 years.

Other less frequent stones include:

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

  • Stay hydrated. Pale urine indicates good hydration. Aim for 12 glasses of water daily. Discuss with a health expert about your water needs. Opt for water over sodas or sports drinks. Reduce sugar and high-fructose corn syrup.
  • Eat more fruits and veggies. Fruits and veggies make urine less acidic to prevent the risk of stone formation. Animal proteins increase urine acidity and uric acid, hence the risk of stones. Cut down on salt and avoid sodium rich processed foods chips or fries. Also, watch out for sandwich meats, canned foods, and certain drinks.
  • Eat these foods:  Some foods to consider in kidney stones are cruciferous vegetables, rich in potassium such as brussels sprouts, broccoli and kale which decrease calcium loss and stop kidney stones from forming. These are also rich in antioxidants and help prevent bladder, prostate, and kidney cancers. Most whole grains are helpful in prevention and treatment of kidney stones. Studies have also found the DASH diet can help prevent the risk of kidney stones.
  • Maintain weight: Aiming for a healthy weight is good, but avoid high-animal-protein diets which increase stone risk. Consult a dietitian before any major diet changes or for diets suitable for kidney stone management.

The most common kidney stone is the calcium oxalate type, formed when oxalate binds to calcium in the kidneys. This happens with insufficient fluids and excessive salt. However, this has nothing to do with calcium found in dairy. Dairy calcium can help prevent stones because it binds the oxalates to calcium before they reach the kidneys. In fact, those with low calcium diets are more at risk of developing stones. Stones can also arise from protein waste, salt, and potassium. Your doctor will advise dietary shifts based on tests.

Some promote herbs for stone prevention. However, there’s no solid medical evidence backing them although some research has found how horse gram contributes to reducing kidney stones.

Can children get kidney stones?

Yes, even kids as young as five can get kidney stones. Two significant of paediatric kidney stones are inadequate hydration and salty foods like salty snacks. Other salty items include sandwich meats, soups, and certain drinks. Sweetened drinks, especially with high fructose corn syrup, might also increase risk of kidney stones in children.

Kidney stones increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease. One should remember, if you have had kidney stones, you are always at a 50% risk of developing another within 5 to 7 years.  Regular screening, a healthy diet and avoiding the risk factors can help you remain free of kidney stones.