Kidney stones, sometimes called ureteral stones, affect one in 10 people at some point in their lives, according to the National Kidney Foundation. They are created when minerals and salts in urine – including calcium, oxalate, phosphate and sometimes uric acid – crystallize and bind together.
Sometimes, a patient won’t know a kidney stone exists until it passes into the ureter, blocking passage and causing urine to back up into the kidney. This can be acutely painful.
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Most patients with kidney stones carry excess minerals and salts in their urine, making them susceptible. Stones tend to be more common in young and middle-aged adults than in the elderly, and more prevalent in men than women. Research suggests that not drinking enough fluids can exacerbate the chemical oversaturation in urine, contributing to stones.
Symptoms of kidney stones include:
Sometimes the stones may cause an infection, triggering these symptoms:
Because the symptoms of kidney stones duplicate those of other urinary problems, the physician will perform an evaluation that may include urine tests, blood tests and imaging tests. Imaging tests may include:
If the kidney stone is small, it may pass on its own within days or weeks. In this case, a physician may prescribe drinking plenty of water – at least three quarts a day – and a pain medication. Alpha-blockers, which relax muscles, and medications that open the ureter also may be prescribed.
If complications develop, such as an infection or total blockage of the ureter, the stone must be removed. Depending on its size, type and location, the stone can be removed by one of several means:
Many times, stone treatments involve the temporary placement of a small tube called a “stent” in the ureter. The stent allows urine to bypass possible blockage from the stone or a swollen ureter. It is usually removed after a week, and in the interim can cause frequent urination, blood in the urine and sometimes abdominal discomfort.
While some people are more susceptible to kidney stones than others, there are several actions you can take to decrease your chances of developing kidney stones.