Chances are you know someone who has had kidney stones. You might even have had them yourself.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, around 10% of people will experience kidney stones at some point in their lives. Every year, more than half a million people go to the emergency room because of kidney stones.
But what are kidney stones, and how do you know if you have them? In this article, you’ll learn about the seven common signs of kidney stones, what they are, how they’re treated, and how to prevent them from developing in the first place.
Let’s get started with some standard kidney stone facts.
What are kidney stones?
A kidney stone is a solid deposit that forms in your kidneys from waste products in your blood and urine.
There are four types of kidney stones: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. The type of kidney stone depends on the chemicals that form it.
Kidney stones vary in size, with some as small as a grain of sand, and others can be the size of a grain of rice or pea. In rare cases, a kidney stone could be so large that it fills the entire kidney.
Kidney stones can travel through your ureters, into your bladder, and exit your body through the urethra. It’s possible for a microscopic stone to pass without you knowing.
However, a stone can irritate or even block your urinary tract, causing severe pain and infection that will need medical attention.
What causes them?
Kidney stones have a wide range of potential causes.
Some of the common contributing factors to this painful condition include:
- Not drinking enough water
- Too little or too much exercise
- Consuming too much salt, sugar, or fructose
- Metabolic disorders
- History of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
- Family history of kidney stones or UTIs
Many of the potential causes of kidney stones are under your control. Later in this article, we’ll review some tips to help lower your risk of developing them.
7 Kidney stone warning signs
Pain is one of the key warning signs of kidney stones, but there are plenty of other symptoms. In addition, many of these symptoms have other potential causes.
If you experience any of these symptoms, make an appointment with your trusted urologist at Urology of Greater Atlanta for appropriate medical treatment.
Pain in the back, sides, or belly, sometimes referred to as renal colic, is the hallmark of troublesome kidney stones.
Kidney stones pain can be so severe that you end up in the emergency room. Some patients say that kidney stone pain is similar to that of childbirth.
Additionally, kidney stone pain isn’t always a constant pain. Instead, you may experience waves of severe pain as a stone passes through your urinary tract and exits your body.
Kidney stones can also cause pain when you pee. When a stone is near or in your bladder, it can cause intense pressure and a burning sensation when urinating.
Many people mistake this type of kidney stone pain for a UTI or STD.
Blood in urine
Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is another sign of kidney stones.
When a kidney stone is large enough, it can irritate the lining of your urinary tract and cause bleeding. As a result, your urine may look pink or brown.
However, in some cases, the amount of blood in your urine is so minute that it can only be found under a microscope.
Cloudy or smelly urine
If a kidney stone leads to an infection in your urinary tract, your urine may appear cloudy or smell stronger than usual.
The cloudiness or abnormal odor could be due to bacteria or pus in your urinary tract. In some cases, the odor could be due to highly concentrated urine.
Increased urgency to urinate
Increased urinary urgency is a sign of a kidney stone in the lower part of your urinary tract.
It can irritate your bladder, creating rapid and intense urges to urinate, sending you running to the bathroom every half hour, or keeping you up at night.
Despite the increased urges to urinate, you might find that you can’t actually pass much urine out of your body.
This could be caused by a kidney stone getting stuck in a ureter and blocking the urine flow to your bladder.
If you stop being able to urinate at all, it is a medical emergency, and you need immediate attention from a doctor.
Fever and chills
Fever and chills are signs of infection. Your body temperature rises as your immune system fights an infection.
You should seek urgent medical attention if you have a fever and pain.
Nausea and vomiting
Kidney stones can affect the nerve connections between your urinary and gastrointestinal tracts.
Abnormal nerve signals can trigger nausea and vomiting.
What should I do if I think I have kidney stones?
Even with health insurance, a trip to the emergency room can be extremely costly.
If you have any signs of kidney stones, make an appointment with the experts at Urology of Greater Atlanta.
Getting an early diagnosis and treatment can prevent significant pain and disruption to your life while also helping you avoid big medical bills.
Additionally, kidney stone symptoms are similar to several other potential issues such as UTIs and STDs. Therefore, your urologist will run tests to confirm the root cause of your symptoms.
How are kidney stones treated?
If kidney stones are the root cause of your pain and other symptoms, your urologist will discuss your treatment options and create a personalized plan to ease your symptoms and help the kidney stone pass out of your body.
Some of the potential treatment options include:
Waiting and watching
In some cases, your urologist may suggest medication to manage your pain, increased water consumption, and waiting for the stone to pass on its own.
This option is more common for smaller kidney stones that aren’t likely to block a ureter or irritate your urinary tract, leading to an infection.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
ESWL is a common and effective treatment for kidney stones.
This non-invasive treatment uses high-energy sound waves to break up a kidney stone into smaller pieces that can pass out of your body with less irritation and pain.
In most cases, you’ll have a local anesthetic during ESWL.
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Endoscopic ureteroscopy with holmium laser
Endoscopic ureteroscopy with holmium laser is a minimally invasive treatment to break up a kidney stone.
During this procedure, you have general anesthesia and your urologist inserts a scope into your bladder to locate the stones.
Then, they use the holmium laser to break the stone into small pieces that will be easier to pass.
The Urology of Greater Atlanta experts offers surgery when other kidney stone treatments aren’t effective. Depending on your condition, they may recommend open surgery or percutaneous nephrolithotomy as a last resort.
During open surgery, your surgeon makes an incision in your abdomen to reach your kidney and extract the stone.
If your physician recommends percutaneous nephrolithotomy, they make a small incision in your back to access the kidney, then insert a hollow tube to remove the kidney stone.
How can I prevent kidney stones?
You can take steps to lower your risk of kidney stones.
Generally, you need to make healthy lifestyle choices such as eating a balanced diet with limited salt and sugar, maintaining a healthy weight, and drinking plenty of water.
If you have a personal or family history of kidney stones, your doctor can give you specific advice on managing your risk factors.