Kidney stones are a common, painful affliction often seen in patients from 30 to 50 years of age. The risk of kidney stones in men and women is about the same, while recurrence rate is relatively high.
What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are hard mineral and salt deposits that form inside the kidneys. One of the main causes of kidney stones is the lack of fluid in the urine, which allows minerals and other substances to accumulate and form stones. Depending on their location, these deposits may be classified as kidney stones, ureteral stones, or bladder stones. Kidney stones are also categorized into different types depending on their composition.
Most patients with kidney stones do not experience any significant symptoms or pain, but if the stone passes into the ureters and creates a blockage, it may cause sharp pain or other more noticeable symptoms. Common symptoms include:
- Sharp pain
- Nausea and vomiting
- Infection and chills
- Pain in the side and back, below the ribs
- Blood in the urine
One of the main causes of kidney stones is long-term inadequate fluid intake, which leads to a low urine output and increases risk of stone formation. Other causes may include chronic illness, medication, living environment (such as subtropical areas), and bacterial infection in the urinary system.
- Male over 30 years of age
- High-salt, high-protein diet
- Metabolic disease, such as gout
- X-ray: detects nearly 90% of all kidney stones, and may be used alongside other noninvasive imaging tests such as ultrasound for increased accuracy
- Urine test: tests the urine pH, which enables the doctor to determine the type of kidney stone
- CT scan: accurately reveals the condition of the stone, such as its size and location. Particularly useful for diagnosis in emergency room patients.
- Blood test: assesses kidney function and reveals risk factors
There are many ways to treat kidney stones. The urologist mainly takes into account the size and location of the stone, the extent of blockage in the ureter, and the health of the patient before suggesting a treatment method.
- Medication: Helps pass the kidney stone and is suitable for patients with minimal symptoms and pain, whose stones are small in size.
- Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL): Uses sound waves to create strong vibrations, which pass through the skin and break up the kidney stone into small pieces that then pass in the urine. It is a noninvasive treatment method and patients are able to return to work soon after the procedure.
- Ureteroscopy: A scope, sometimes with the guidance of X-ray, is inserted into the ureter. A stent may also be used to facilitate treatment. Once the kidney stone is located, the doctor will use a special instrument to break up the stone, instantly clearing the blockage and alleviating any pain caused by the stone. Anesthesia is usually administered prior to the procedure.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: If ESWL is unsuccessful or if the kidney stone is too large, surgery may be required. Guided by X-ray, this minimally invasive procedure involves inserting a thin tube through a small incision in the patient’s back to reach the stone. A special instrument is then threaded through the tube to break up the stone and remove the fragments.