What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
Kidney stones often do not cause any symptoms. Usually, the first symptom of a kidney stone is extreme pain, which begins suddenly when a stone moves in the urinary tract and blocks the flow of urine. Typically, a person feels a sharp, cramping pain in the back and side in the area of the kidney or in the lower abdomen. Sometimes nausea and vomiting occur. Later, pain may spread to the groin.
If the stone is too large to pass easily, pain continues as the muscles in the wall of the narrow ureter try to squeeze the stone into the bladder. As the stone moves and the body tries to push it out, blood may appear in the urine, making the urine pink. As the stone moves down the ureter, closer to the bladder, a person may feel the need to urinate more often or feel a burning sensation during urination.
If fever and chills accompany any of these symptoms, an infection may be present. In this case, a person should contact a doctor immediately.
How are kidney stones diagnosed?
Sometimes “silent” stones-those that do not cause symptoms-are found on x rays taken during a general health exam. If the stones are small, they will often pass out of the body unnoticed. Often, kidney stones are found on an x ray or ultrasound taken of someone who complains of blood in the urine or sudden pain. These diagnostic images give the doctor valuable information about the stone’s size and location. Blood and urine tests help detect any abnormal substance that might promote stone formation.
The doctor may decide to scan the urinary system using a special test called a computerized tomography (CT) scan or an intravenous pyelogram (IVP). The results of all these tests help determine the proper treatment.
Preventing Kidney Stones
A person who has had more than one kidney stone may be likely to form another; so, if possible, prevention is important. To help determine their cause, the doctor will order laboratory tests, including urine and blood tests. The doctor will also ask about the patient’s medical history, occupation, and eating habits. If a stone has been removed, or if the patient has passed a stone and saved it, a stone analysis by the laboratory may help the doctor in planning treatment.
The doctor may ask the patient to collect urine for 24 hours after a stone has passed or been removed. For a 24-hour urine collection, the patient is given a large container, which is to be refrigerated between trips to the bathroom. The collection is used to measure urine volume and levels of acidity, calcium, sodium, uric acid, oxalate, citrate, and creatinine-a product of muscle metabolism. The doctor will use this information to determine the cause of the stone. A second 24-hour urine collection may be needed to determine whether the prescribed treatment is working.
How are kidney stones treated?
Fortunately, surgery is not usually necessary. Most kidney stones can pass through the urinary system with plenty of water-2 to 3 quarts a day-to help move the stone along. Often, the patient can stay home during this process, drinking fluids and taking pain medication as needed. The doctor usually asks the patient to save the passed stone(s) for testing. It can be caught in a cup or tea strainer used only for this purpose.
- A simple and most important lifestyle change to prevent stones is to drink more liquids-water is best. Someone who tends to form stones should try to drink enough liquids throughout the day to produce at least 2 quarts of urine in every 24-hour period.
- In the past, people who form calcium stones were told to avoid dairy products and other foods with high calcium content. Recent studies have shown that foods high in calcium, including dairy products, may help prevent calcium stones. Taking calcium in pill form, however, may increase the risk of developing stones.
- Patients may be told to avoid food with added vitamin D and certain types of antacids that have a calcium base. Someone who has highly acidic urine may need to eat less meat, fish, and poultry. These foods increase the amount of acid in the urine.
- To prevent cystine stones, a person should drink enough water each day to dilute the concentration of cystine that escapes into the urine, which may be difficult. More than a gallon of water may be needed every 24 hours, and a third of that must be drunk during the night.