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What are kidney stones?

It is unclear why kidney stones form, but they can occur within a kidney, ureter, or in the bladder. Kidney stones vary in size, shape and consistency. They can be microscopic or as large as a potato. Small stones pass the urinary tract without a problem, while bigger stones can cause real problems. Sometimes kidney stones can get stuck in the ureters, causing a lot of pain and persistent symptoms.

Kidney stones usually occur between the ages of 20 and 40.

Once a person has a history of kidney stones, there is a great chance that they will recur.

How are kidney stones formed?

The kidneys filter blood and remove water and waste chemicals. These are eliminated from the body through the urine. These chemicals sometimes can form tiny crystals, which clump together and form kidney stones.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

Symptoms depend on the shape and size of a kidney stone. Small kidney stones tend to be eliminated with urine, something patients may not notice. Bigger kidney stones can cause severe pain and a lot of problems, especially if they get stuck.

The usual symptoms of kidney stones are:

  • Pain - usually on the affected side
  • Renal colic - severe pain which comes and goes, when the kidney stone moves from the kidney to the bladder through the ureters. If the kidney stone gets stuck, the ureters try to eliminate it by squeezing the stone. This is a very painful process, and the pain can spread into the lower abdomen or the groin area.
  • Blood in the urine - as a result of the stone rubbing against the ureter walls.
  • Infection of the urinary tract - UTIs are more common in people who have kidney stones. The reason is that kidney stones interfere with the normal urine elimination process, making it easier for bacteria to multiply. If you have developed a urinary infection you may also have fever, pain during or after urination, frequent urination, and other symptoms.

How are kidney stones diagnosed?

If you have symptoms that suggest a kidney stone, special X-rays or scans of the kidneys and ureters may be done. These tests detect the location of the stone and also show if the stone is blocking the flow of urine. Your doctor may advise additional tests to see if the kidneys function normally. These may include a blood test to check the levels of some chemicals, urine tests to check for an infection or the presence of crystals in the urine and analysis of the stone if you pass it out.

Complications caused by kidney stones are not common. The main problem is the severe pain (renal colic) when the kidney stone is on its way out.

A total blockage of urine flow leads to urine retention, urinary tract infection and kidney damage.

This can all contribute to kidney failure, but it can easily be avoided with early diagnosis, proper treatment and regular checkups.

How are the kidney stones treated?

Kidney stones that don't cause any problems can be left untreated. If a stone causes renal colic and is about to be eliminated from the body, you should consume a lot of fluids and take some strong pain killers. Usually these stones are eliminated in a day or two.

If stones block the normal flow of urine, or they are very big and can't be eliminated naturally, removal is necessary. Shock wave lithotripsy is the most common treatment for kidney stones. With the help of external shock waves, these kidney stones break into pieces so they can later be eliminated from your body naturally.

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