Kidney stones: causes, symptoms and main risk factors

Kidney stones (renal lithiasis, nephrolithiasis) are hard deposits made up of minerals and salts that form inside the kidneys. Kidney stones have many causes and can affect any part of your urinary tract, from the kidneys to the bladder. Often stones form when urine becomes concentrated, allowing minerals to crystallize and stick together

Kidney stone removal can be quite painful, but stones usually do not cause permanent damage if caught early. Depending on your situation, you may need nothing more than pain medication and plenty of water to pass a kidney stone. In other cases, for example, if the stones become lodged in the urinary tract, are associated with a urinary tract infection, or cause complications, surgery may be necessary.

In any case, it will be useful to adopt some preventive measures to reduce the risk of recurrence of kidney stones if you are at an increased risk of developing them again.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

A kidney stone may not cause symptoms until it travels through the kidney or passes through the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney and the bladder. At this point, you may experience these signs and symptoms:

– Intense pain in the side and in the back, under the ribs

– Pain that radiates down the abdomen and groin

– Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity

– Painful urination

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– Pink, red or brown urine

– Cloudy or smelly urine

– Nausea and vomiting

– Persistent need to urinate

– Urinate more often than usual

– Fever and chills in case of infection

– Urinate small amounts

Pain from a kidney stone may change, for example, moving to a different location or increasing in intensity as the stone moves through the urinary tract.

When to consult a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any signs and symptoms that worry you.

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience:

– pain so intense that you cannot sit still or find a comfortable position

– Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting

– Pain accompanied by fever and chills

– Blood in the urine

– Difficulty urinating

Common causes of kidney stone formation

Kidney stones often don’t have a single, specific cause, although several factors can increase your risk.

Kidney stones form when your urine contains more crystalline substances, such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid, than the liquid in your urine can dilute. At the same time, your urine may be lacking in substances that prevent crystals from sticking together, creating an ideal environment for kidney stones to form.

The different types of kidney stones

Knowing the type of kidney stone helps determine the cause and can give clues on how to reduce the risk of having other kidney stones. If possible, try to save your kidney stone if you have one, so you can have it analyzed.

The types of kidney stones are:

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– Calcium calculations. Most kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in food and is also made daily by your liver. Some fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and chocolate, are high in oxalate. Dietary factors, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass, and several metabolic disorders can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine.

Calcium stones can also occur as calcium phosphate. This type of stones is more common in metabolic conditions, such as renal tubular acidosis. It can also be associated with certain migraines or taking certain medications.

– Struvite stones form in response to an infection, such as a urinary tract infection. These stones can grow quickly and become quite large, sometimes with few symptoms or little warning.

– Uric acid stones. Uric acid stones can form in people who don’t drink enough or lose too much fluid, in people who eat a high-protein diet, and in people who suffer from gout. Certain genetic factors can also increase the risk of uric acid stones.

– Cystine stones. These stones form in people with an inherited condition that results in excessive excretion of certain amino acids by the kidneys (cystinuria).

Risk factors for the appearance of kidney stones

Some of the factors that increase the risk of developing kidney stones include:

– Family or personal history. If a member of your family has kidney stones, you are also more likely to develop them. And if you’ve had one or more kidney stones in the past, you have an increased risk of developing another.

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– The dehydration. Not drinking enough water each day can increase the risk of kidney stones. People who live in hot climates and those who sweat a lot may be more at risk than others.

– Certain diets. A diet high in protein, sodium (salt), and sugar may increase the risk of certain types of kidney stones. This is especially true with a high sodium diet. Too much salt in your diet increases the amount of calcium your kidneys have to filter out and greatly increases your risk of kidney stones.

– Being obese. A high body mass index (BMI), large waist circumference and significant weight gain have been associated with an increased risk of kidney stones.

– Digestive diseases and surgery. Gastric bypass surgery, inflammatory bowel disease, or chronic diarrhea can cause changes in the digestive process that affect calcium and water absorption, increasing levels of stone-forming substances in the urine.

-Other medical conditions. Diseases and conditions that can increase your risk of kidney stones include renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, certain medications, and some urinary tract infections.


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