As the kidneys filter waste from the blood, they create urine. Sometimes, salts and other minerals in urine stick together to form small kidney stones. These range from the size of a sugar crystal to a ping pong ball, but they are rarely noticed unless they cause a blockage. They may cause intense pain if they break loose and push into the ureters, the narrow ducts leading to the bladder.

Kidney Stone Symptoms

When kidney stones move through the urinary tract, they may cause:

  • Severe pain in the back, belly, or groin
  • Frequent or painful urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
    Small stones may pass without causing symptoms.

Kidney Stone or Something Else?

If you have sudden, severe pain in the back or belly, it’s best to seek medical care right away. Abdominal pain is associated with many other conditions, including emergencies like appendicitis and ectopic pregnancy. Painful urination is also a common symptom of a urinary tract infection or an STD.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are rarely diagnosed before they begin causing pain. This pain is often severe enough to send patients to the ER, where a variety of tests can uncover the stones. These may include a CT scan, X-rays, ultrasound, and urinalysis. Blood tests can help look for high levels of minerals involved in forming kidney stones.

The CT scan here shows a stone blocking the ureter, the duct that empties into the bladder.

Home Care for Kidney Stones

If a kidney stone seems small enough, your doctor may recommend you take pain medicine and wait for the stone to pass out of the body on its own. During this time, your doctor may recommend that you drink enough water and fluids to keep urine clear — about eight to 10 glasses a day.

Treatment: Medication

There are prescription medications that can help the body pass a kidney stone. Drugs known as alpha-blockers relax the walls of the ureter. This widens the passages so a stone can fit through more easily. Side effects are generally mild and may include headache or dizziness. Other types of medications can help prevent new stones from forming.

Treatment: Shock Wave Therapy

The most common medical procedure for treating kidney stones is known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). This therapy uses high-energy shock waves to break a kidney stone into little pieces. The small pieces can then move through the urinary tract more easily. Side effects can include bleeding, bruising, or pain after the procedure.

Treatment: Ureteroscopy

When a stone has made its way out of the kidney and is close to the bladder, the most common procedure is ureteroscopy. A thin tube is passed through the urinary tract to the location of the stone. A surgeon breaks up the stone and removes the fragments through the tube. No incisions are made in the body. For very large stones, surgical procedures may be needed.

CategoryMedical
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