Kidney Stones and Treatment

What are they?

The urinary tract, or urinary system, includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter the blood. They remove waste and excess water and minerals. These materials are carried out of the body as urine. If an imbalance of minerals in the urine occurs, kidney stones can result.

What are the symptoms?

Some or all of these symptoms may be present: Mild to severe pain, which typically starts in the midback or side but can move to the front and down to the groin; nausea and vomiting; more frequent urination; burning with urination; and blood in the urine.

What causes kidney stones?

Everyone has the basic ingredients to make kidney stones. Stones form when there is an imbalance between the promoters and inhibitors of stone formation. Which means that if there are too many promoters or not enough inhibitors then stones form. The biggest link between all stone formers is dehydration.

How is it diagnosed?

After your health history and exam, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following tests to determine the type, size, and location of your kidney stone.

  • Urinalysis - a urine sample is checked for acidity, blood, infection, and for any crystals.
  • Blood tests - blood samples are checked for mineral levels. Tests can also check kidney function.
  • CT scans and other imaging tests show the size and location of kidney stones.

What can be done about it?

There are two main ways to treat kidney stones: passing stones on your own and procedures to help stones pass. Open surgery is rarely done to treat kidney stones.

Passing Kidney Stones. Many can be passed in the urine. This may be done with or without the aid of medication. Kidney stones less than 5 millimeters wide often pass naturally. Your doctor may ask you to drink lots of water while you wait. Medications are typically used for stones in the ureter. Some medications help the body pass kidney stones by relaxing the ureters. Other medications help the body dissolve stones so they can pass out of the body. They are used to treat uric acid stones.

Procedures to Help Pass Stones. Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL), the most common procedure, uses sound waves to break stones into small pieces which makes the stone easier to pass. SWL is typically used for stones in the kidney and upper ureter. Ureteroscopy is most often used if a stone is lodged in the ureter. A small telescope with a camera is inserted through the urethra and bladder and into the ureter. A laser fiber is sent through the scope to break up the stone. The stone fragments can then pass in the urine. Percutaneous Stone Removal is typically used for larger stones located in the kidney. A small incision is made in the back. A telescope with a camera is inserted through the incisions into the kidney. Lasers or other devices passed through the scope break up the stone. The stone fragments are then removed through the scope.

Can stones be prevented?

Yes. Stone prevention is based on evaluation using stone analysis, blood chemistry and 24-hour urine collection for stone risk profile. Depending on these results, recommendations for medications, dietary modifications or both may be made. The one thing that is most beneficial is hydration. A kidney stone patient needs to drink enough fluid to make 2 liters of urine per day.

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