Kidney stones form inside the kidneys or other parts of the urinary tract. They are made form a crystal-like substance. There are different types of kidney stones.
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The cause will vary with the type of stone. Calcium oxalate or phosphorus stones may form if there are:
- High amounts of calcium or other minerals in the urine
- Low levels of minerals that stop stones from forming
Struvite stones may form with a urinary tract infection (UTI).
Uric acid stones are caused by acid in the urine. They may also be caused by gout or chemotherapy.
Cystine stones are caused by a rare genetic disorder. It causes a buildup of cystine which leads to stones.
Kidney stones are more common in men under 50 years old or anyone with:
- Past kidney stones
- Family history of kidney stones
Calcium oxalate or phosphorus stones are more common in those with:
- High amount of sodium and oxalate in your diet (oxalate can be found in green, leafy vegetables, chocolate, nuts, or tea)
- Not drinking or keeping enough fluids and dehydration
- Overactive parathyroid gland
- Long term gut disorders such as Crohn disease or ulcerative colitis
- Diuretic medicine
- Calcium-based antacids
Struvite stones are more common in women. It is more common in those with past UTIs.
Uric acid stones are more common in those with:
Most kidney stones will not cause symptoms. Other stones may cause:
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the mid-back
- Pain in the lower belly, groin, or genital areas
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the urine
- Increased need to urinate
- Burning pain during urination
You will be asked about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Urine may be tested to look for infection or blood. The doctor may suspect a stone based on your symptoms. Images of the urinary tract will show if a stone is present. Tests may include:
Blood tests may also be done to look for a cause.
The stones may pass in urine without problems. Drinking water can also help to flush small stones. Pain medicine may be needed.
Surgery may be needed if:
- Stones are very large or growing larger.
- There is bleeding, infection, or damage to the kidney.
- Urine flow is blocked.
- Stone cannot pass on its own.
Types of surgery include:
- Ureteroscopy—does not need cuts in the skin. A small tube is passed up into the tract to the stone. Tools are passed through this tube to remove the stone.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy—a small cut is made on the low back. A scope is passed through this cut. The stone can then be broken into pieces and removed.
- Lithotomy—a large incision will be used. This will give access to the area to remove stones. It is rarely used. The choices with small or no incisions are more common now.
A stent may be placed for a short time. The stent will help to keep the passage open to allow the stone to pass. It will help if there is too much swelling in the path that the stone has to pass through.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) passes a handheld device over the skin above the stone. It sends small shock waves into the body. The waves break up large stones. The smaller pieces should be able to pass through the urine.
Once you have had a kidney stone, you are more likely to have another. To help reduce the chance of another kidney stone:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water.
- Talk to your doctor about what diet is right for you. You may have to avoid certain food or drinks.
- Medicine may help to stop some stones from forming again.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases https://www.niddk.nih.gov
National Kidney Foundation https://www.kidney.org
Health Canada https://www.canada.ca
The Kidney Foundation of Canada https://www.kidney.ca
Kidney stones. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/urologic-diseases/kidney-stones. Accessed March 8, 2018.
Kidney stones. Urology Care Foundation website. Available at: http://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-stones?article=148. Updated March 8, 2018.
Nephrolithiasis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114904/Nephrolithiasis . Updated February 5, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2018.
Urinary calculi. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/genitourinary-disorders/urinary-calculi/urinary-calculi. Updated July 2016. Accessed March 8, 2018.
1/4/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114904/Nephrolithiasis : Hollingsworth JM, Rogers MA, Kaufman SR, et al. Medical therapy to facilitate urinary stone passage: A meta-analysis. Lancet. 2006;368(9542):1171-1179.
1/4/2011 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance https://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114904/Nephrolithiasis : Mora B, Giorni E, Dobrovits M, et al. Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation: an effective treatment for pain caused by renal colic in emergency care. J Urol. 2006;175(5):1737-1741.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board Adrienne Carmack, MD
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 01/16/2020