What are kidney stones and how are they formed?

By September 21, 2016abdominal pain
3D example kidney with kidney stones

We hear about how painful kidney stones are, but what exactly are kidney stones? Kidney stones are hard masses that form in your kidneys, usually made up of insoluble calcium compounds. There are multiple reasons why kidney stones appear.

How are kidney stones formed?

Kidney stones could come from any one of the following issues:

  • Genetics – you get it from your family history
  • Too much calcium or other particular minerals in your diet (sometimes that stems from the water you drink or the soil conditions in your city or state)
  • Ingesting too much uric acid, certain medications, Vitamin C, or Vitamin D
  • Eating too many fruits and vegetables that are high in oxolates (spinach, rhubarb, beets, nuts, chocolate, wheat bran, strawberries, peanuts, almonds, tea)
  • Long-standing dehydration or not getting enough fluids
  • Infections in your urinary system
  • Too much sweating and loss of fluids
  • Sometimes, kidney stones come from a sedentary lifestyle, or not getting enough exercise.

What types of kidney stones exist?

There are several different types of kidney stones. They include:

  • Calcium stones – These are the most common kind of kidney stone. They are formed by calcium oxalate, which comes from food. Some foods have higher levels than others, like fruits, vegetables, nuts and chocolate. Other dietary factors include high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and multiple kinds of metabolic disorders.
  • Struvite stones – These kinds of kidney stones form as a result of an infection, like a urinary tract infection. They can form very quickly and can become very large.
  • Uric acid stones – This type of kidney stone forms when you don’t drink enough fluids, or if you lose too much fluid. They also form when there’s too much protein in your diet, and if you have gout.
  • Cystine stones – These stones form in those who have a hereditary disorder that causes their kidneys to produce too much of certain amino acids (cystinuria).
  • Other stones – There are other rare stones that can form in people.

What are symptoms of kidney stones?

If kidney stones are known for anything, it’s the agonizing pain they cause. Although some people have and pass kidney stones without ever knowing it, that’s not usually the case. Typically, the kidney stone lets you know it’s there with debilitating pain as it moves through your urinary tract.

The pain could be felt in the following areas:

  • Lower back below the ribs
  • Front of the abdomen
  • Groin area

Other symptoms include:

  • Pain when you urinate
  • Colored urine (red, pink or brown)
  • Cloudy urine or urine that smells bad
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constantly feeling the need to urinate
  • Urinating more frequently
  • Fever and possibly chills
  • When you urinate, only small amounts come out.

How are kidney stones treated?

Small kidney stones that don’t cause extreme symptoms can usually be treated pretty easily. Sometimes, you can pass small stones by doing the following things:

  • Drinking water – Drinking up to three quarts of water a day can help flush out your urinary system.
  • Pain relievers – If you’re passing a small stone without prescription medication, your doctor might recommend that you take an over-the-counter pain reliever, like ibuprofen, Tylenol or Aleve.
  • Prescription medication – Sometimes, a doctor might prescribe medication to help pass your kidney stone. Typically it will be an alpha blocker, which relaxes the muscles in your ureter.