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Kidney Stones: What You Need to Know

Mar 16, 2023 / Nephrology

By Suzanne Martin, MD
Division of Nephrology

Chances are, you’ve heard a friend or a relative talking about dealing with kidney stones, as they are a very common problem. In fact, according to the National Kidney Foundation, one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. Kidney stones are the result of a buildup of dissolved minerals in the urine on the inner lining of the kidneys. Kidney stones can be very small or grow to be the size of a golf ball. Unfortunately, they can cause extreme pain when they are passed through the urinary tract and out of the body.

Some of the reasons why people might get kidney stones include:

  • Genetics (stones can run in families, and the way that your kidneys handle calcium, oxalate, and other minerals can have a big impact on your risk of stones)
  • Certain medications
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Certain urinary tract infections

Symptoms of a Kidney Stone

Although some kidney stones are so small they can pass unnoticed throughout the body, most will cause noticeable symptoms. Any of the following problems could indicate a kidney stone:

  • Severe pain on either side of your lower back
  • Blood in the urine
  • Vague pain, or a stomachache that doesn’t go away
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills (which could mean an infection behind a stone)

Having kidney stones can be a serious condition. When they remain inside the body, they can lead to complications, including blockage of the tube connecting the kidney to the bladder. Always contact your primary care provider if you think you have a kidney stone.

The most common type of kidney stone is a calcium oxalate stone. These are formed when oxalate, a by-product of certain foods, binds to calcium as urine is being created by the kidneys.

Treating Kidney Stones

Your doctor will advise you on the best way to deal with your kidney stones. The good news is that most small kidney stones don’t require invasive treatment. You may be able to pass a small stone just by drinking more water. Your doctor can also prescribe a medication to help you pass your kidney stone easier and with less pain. However, not all kidney stones can be treated this easily. Shock-wave lithotripsy is a non-invasive medical procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to blast kidney stones into small fragments that are easier to pass out of the body through the urine. In some cases, people with large kidney stones that can’t be removed with lithotripsy may require a surgical procedure.

If you do pass a kidney stone, you should bring it to your visit with your doctor. There are different types of kidney stones, and your doctor will want to know the type of stone that you have developed. This can help guide recommendations to prevent getting another stone in the future.

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

Making sure you drink enough fluids is an important way to reduce the risk of kidney stones.  Keeping yourself well hydrated helps make sure that your urine is less concentrated with the minerals that can cause stones. Your urine should appear light yellow to clear if you are well hydrated.

Avoid food and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, as these can increase the risk of kidney stones. Consuming more fruits and vegetables (especially potassium-rich foods), and eating less animal protein can help make your urine less acidic and less likely to form kidney stones. Eating calcium-rich foods will not increase your risk of forming another calcium oxalate kidney stone, but talk to your doctor if you want to take calcium supplements.

Keep in mind that once you have a problem with kidney stones, they can occur again. That’s why it’s important to take preventative measures to avoid them. Your doctor may send you to a nephrologist (a kidney specialist) to help make personalized recommendations to prevent more kidney stones, based on the composition of your urine. These personalized recommendations can include medications or changes in diet.  You can learn more about kidney stones here.

Kidney Stones: What You Need to Know

About Suzanne Martin, MD

Dr. Suzanne Martin’s love of biology and desire to help others led her to become a doctor. “I took an Advanced Placement class in Biology during high school and just loved it. I also knew when I was younger that I wanted a career that would allow me to help people, so putting those two things together made medicine a natural choice for me,” she explains.

Dr. Martin is a nephrologist, a physician who specializes in diseases of...

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