Info About Kidney Stones

INTRODUCTION

A little bit of info about kidney stones was provided in the article “Where Are My Kidneys Located?”, on this website. We will expand on the subject and answer some of the most frequent questions about kidney stones.

Kidney stones are very common throughout the world and cause a lot of distress, morbidity and mortality. For reasons that will be explained later in this article, kidney stones are increasing in incidence and prevalence. So it is important to make info about kidney stones readily available.

This article will be divided into the following paragraphs:

  • what causes kidney stones?
  • types of kidney stones
  • kidney stone symptoms
  • kidney stone symptoms treatment
  • the management of kidney stones

WHAT CAUSES KIDNEY STONES?

Urine is a solution of many chemicals (elements and compounds) in water. Most of these chemicals are waste products that are being excreted by the kidneys.

A fine balance has to be maintained in order that the chemicals in the urine, remain in dissolved form. And a steady flow of the urine is another critical factor in preventing crystallisation of the solute chemicals.

For various reasons, it does happen that one or more of the solute constituents reaches concentrations that are too high. When this happens (overwhelmingly inside the kidney’s urine collecting system), the solute aggregates or crystallises.

As the solid builds up, a urinary stone (kidney stone) is formed. It could be one stone, or a few stones. But it can also be many small stones, like sand.

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TYPES OF KIDNEY STONES

There are four types of kidney stones:

  1. calcium stones
  2. struvite stones
  3. uric acid stones
  4. cystine stones

If you do pass a kidney stone in your urine, it is vital that you collect it. It can then be sent to a laboratory (if accessible in your area) for analysis and characterisation. This is very helpful, as will be seen later.

1. Calcium stones are the commonest type of stones (around 4/5 or 80%), fortunately. I am saying fortunately because calcified stones show up on plain x-rays.

So if you have kidney stone(s), there is an 80% chance that an easily accessible x-ray can pick up and locate the pathology. This is helpful in making a speedy diagnosis (if the cause of your presenting symptoms is not yet known). It also helps in planning intervention, including watchful waiting if necessary.

Most calcium stones consist of calcium oxalate. This has important implications for the choice of diet when you are known to have calcium oxalate urinary stones. This will be discussed under the management of kidney stones below.

A minority of calcium stones, are made up of calcium phosphate. These ones result from disturbed urine flow which was mentioned in the second paragraph (what causes kidney stones?) Phosphate is excreted in urine.

(Just by way of contrasting, only 20% of gallstones are calcified. This means that there is an 80% chance that you will NOT pick up gallstones on plain x-rays.)

KIDNEY STONE SYMPTOMS

If the size of kidney stone(s) is small, that is, less than 5mm, there may be no symptoms at all. The stone(s) may even be passed unnoticed. Bigger stones are more likely to cause symptoms, although this is not always the case.

The commonest symptom of kidney stones is pain.

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KIDNEY STONE SYMPTOMS TREATMENT

The most important symptom to deal with under this heading, is pain or renal colic. This pain results from irritation of the urinary tract, and even more importantly, from spasm of the muscles of the tract. The spasm is very intense, and causes one of the worst pains known to humankind.

So, pain relief in the case of kidney stones (renal colic) consists of the use of:

  • painkillers
  • antispasmodics

GET RID OF KIDNEY STONES

Dear Reader you are probably keen to know how to “cure” kidney stones. This is understandable, especially if you are a sufferer of kidney stones. Your agony and anxiety are absolutely empathised with.

When you have had kidney stone(s) for the first time, it is difficult to know whether there will be a recurrence.

Management of kidney stones can therefore be one of the following:

  • no treatment / watchful waiting / conservative
  • medical treatment or medical dissolution
  • surgical (removal of kidney stones)
  • lithotripsy (breaking or shattering the stones)

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