Definition and Overview

Kidney stones occur when the mineral deposits in the urine lump together. These formations can be as big as ping pong balls or as small as sand grains. The occurrence of minerals in the urine per se is not harmful. In fact, most mineral deposits pass through the kidney undetected and without causing any real harm. However, when there is a major change in the urine’s natural chemical composition, harmful kidney stones can form.

Causes of the condition

Any change in the ph balance of the urine can cause the formation of kidney stones. Although there are several types of kidney stones, the most common is the calcium-type. This is because it is the hardest to break down. The usual causes of kidney stone formation includes the following:

  • Inadequate water intake. An average intake of eight to ten glasses a day is necessary to maintain a healthy ph balance in the urine. This way, there is always more water than mineral deposit in the urine, which is the best way to prevent the occurrence of crystallization.

  • Specific medical condition. Diseases like gout, Crohn’s disease, and inflammatory bowel disease (IDB) can disrupt the regular chemical balance of the urine. This can trigger the formation of kidney stones as well.

  • Hormonal imbalance. In very rare cases, kidney stones occur when the parathyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone. This can affect the minerals that the body absorbs including the ones that go with the urine.

  • Genetic. Some families pass down kidney stone problems from one generation to the next. The real causes are numerous and they can be a combination of one or more of the reasons mentioned above.

Key Symptoms

Small kidney stones in the body typically do not cause any pain. However, when big kidney stones block or drag through the ureters as they travel from the kidney to the bladder and through the urethra, they cause severe abdominal pain. This pain is often described as sudden, extreme, and coming in waves. This pain can be felt in the abdomen, groin, or genitals.

Other symptoms include:

  • Reddish or pinkish urine caused by the presence of blood (often acquired when the stones scrape through the ureters and urethra)

  • Nausea or a feeling that you are sick to your stomach that may or may not be followed by vomiting

  • Frequent but very painful urination that may also be caused by a urinary tract infection that often precedes the condition

While these symptoms are rare, they are not unique to the presence of kidney stones. Other medical conditions such as ectopic pregnancy, prostatitis, appendicitis, and hernias also display the same symptoms.

Who to See & Types of Treatment Available

Since kidney stone problems are often diagnosed in the emergency room, where patients are taken due to unexplained and sudden severe pain in the stomach, groin or genitals, general medical practitioners are typically the ones that provide initial assessment and diagnosis. If it has been confirmed that you have kidney stones, you will be referred to a kidney stone specialist or urologist who will formulate the best treatment plan based on your symptoms and severity of the case.

In cases when the kidney stone is small enough, you may only need to drink plenty of water and medicine to break down the kidney stone. However, if the stone is too large, a more intrusive surgical treatment may be needed to remove it. The kidney stone treatment depends on your general health condition and the size and location of the kidney stone. The two most common treatments are extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL) and percutaneous nephrolithotomy.

Preventing the formation of kidney stones is possible with a healthy lifestyle. Start by drinking at least a liter of water a day. Changing your diet so that it does not affect the natural balance of your urine also helps. Should your increased water intake and healthier diet fail to prevent the formation of kidney stones, your urologist may prescribe nonsteroidal drugs and pain relievers if needed. Usually, medicinal treatment is prescribed for those who have medical conditions, which trigger the formation of kidney stones. This can be a disease like gout, or in some cases, hormonal imbalance caused by a malfunctioning thyroid gland.

Resources:

  • “What is Urology?” http://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-Urology.aspx
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