Kidney stones are the uncomfortable, sometimes painful, formation of minerals (calcium, phosphate or oxalate) that develop in the kidney. They can grow to be as large as a golf ball and sometimes become lodged in the kidney, ureter or bladder. If not removed, kidney stones may cause infection and permanent damage to your organs. While there are certain risk factors for developing kidney stones, anyone’s body can create these painful rocks under the right circumstances. Let’s dive in deeper to what kidney stones are and how they form.
How Do Kidney Stones Form?
Kidney stones typically begin with small crystals that form in the kidney. These crystals can be made of excess amounts of calcium, phosphate and oxalate. High levels of these minerals and low levels of liquid cause kidney stones to form. Kidney stones can also be caused by a condition called hyperparathyroidism, which causes several different kinds of kidney stones to form.
Types of Kidney Stones
There are different types of kidney stones that can form depending on your genetic makeup and lifestyle factors. Some examples include:
Calcium is the most common mineral to cause kidney stones. They can be caused by high levels of calcium you consume through your diet or they can occur due to a lack of kidney function. Calcium stones are further classified by the type of calcium they contain, which include:
- Calcium oxalate kidney stones
- Calcium phosphate kidney stones
Struvite kidney stones form when your urine becomes too concentrated with a certain kind of enzyme. This enzyme is normally found in your kidney, prostate and reproductive tract. Struvite kidney stones can cause infection and they most commonly form after a kidney or bladder infection.
Uric Acid Stones
Uric acid kidney stones occur when your urine is very acidic. This causes uric acid to become solid instead of dissolved as it normally would be. Uric acid kidney stones most commonly form in people who have gout, kidney disease and the elderly.
Cystinuria is a condition that causes kidney stones made of cysteine (an amino acid) to be formed in your kidneys. This condition mainly affects children and young adults. Less than 1% of all kidney stones are formed of this type.
How Can Kidney Stones Affect Your Health?
Kidney stones are one of the most common causes of kidney pain, so they can definitely cause discomfort. But kidney stones also present several other threats to your well-being if left untreated. For example, kidney stone pain is so severe for some people that it interrupts life and work, sending them to the hospital at times.
Kidney stones can also cause kidney infections, which can be very harmful and even deadly. Finally, kidney stones may block the flow of urine in your kidneys or bladder. This is called urinary obstruction and kidney stones stuck in the kidney or ureter must be removed immediately to avoid kidney damage.
What are the Risk Factors for Kidney Stones?
Some of the most significant risk factors for developing kidney stones include:
- Family history of kidney stones
- High oxalate intake
- Digestive diseases
- Certain medications
Kidney Stone Treatment
There are several treatments available for kidney stones, depending on the size and location of them. Small kidney stones can typically pass on their own, but larger kidney stones may need treatment to remove them. Treatment options include:
- Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL)
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy or “minimally invasive” kidney stone surgery
- Renal/ureteral stents
Finding kidney stones early is important. If you experience kidney stone symptoms or pain, see your doctor to determine if treatment is right for you. Visit our website to schedule your appointment today.