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Is It a Kidney Stone, Or Something Else? 6 Signs

March 08, 2024 | By: Robert Larke, M.D.

If you’ve never experienced the pain of a kidney stone, try shooting an olive pit through a peashooter.

That’s what it’s sometimes like when a stone passes through the two narrow tubes, called ureters, that connect the kidneys to the bladder. It can hurt a lot – so much so that pain is typically the only symptom we associate with kidney stones.

But did you know there are several less urgent signs – and risk factors – that could signal stones are lurking in your urinary tract? Some of these symptoms can stem from other conditions, but many are triggered from stone-related complications. 

This is how to detect them.

Jagged Little Deposits

Kidney stones start out as tiny crystals, formed by a high concentration of chemicals such as calcium and oxalates (salt) in the urine. 

If you are well-hydrated, the fluids you take in will dissolve these substances and carry them out of your body. But if you do not get enough fluids, the chemicals could bind (crystalize) and attract other elements, eventually becoming a stone the size of a pea, or larger. 

Most cases of kidney stones, an estimated 80%, are formed by calcium deposits, but other minerals can crystalize, as well, including oxalate, phosphate, urate, xanthine, and cystine. Overall, the risk of you developing a stone in your lifetime is 10%; 11% for men and 9% for women.

Now here’s a fun fact: Even if you are among the one in 10, you could walk through life not knowing a stone is lurking; a tiny stone can even pass through your urine without causing a lot of pain. However, if a stone gets large enough, it can block urine’s passage and back it up into your kidney, ureter, bladder, and even urethra. 

That can lead to more serious complication, including severe infections.

Other Signs, and Risks, of Kidney Stones

A variety of factors increase the risk of stones developing. These include diets that are high in proteins, salts, and sugars (especially from processed foods). Obesity, certain medications, repeated urinary tract infections, and inflammatory bowel disease also raise the risk. 

If a stone is interrupting your urine passage, your body will try to tell you in a number of ways. You should not ignore these symptoms:

  • A burning feeling when you urinate
  • Bad-smelling and/or cloudy pee 
  • Blood in your urine
  • Discomfort or pain on your sides or lower back, below the rib cage
  • Fever and chills (indicating an infection)
  • Nausea and or vomiting 

If you recognize these symptoms, you should consult a doctor.

How Stones are Diagnosed and Treated

If the stone is small, you might be able to pass it by taking pain medication and drinking a lot of water. If a stone or stones get caught in the ureter, your physician might prescribe one of these medical interventions. 

Ureteroscopy – With this minimally invasive approach, the physician feeds a thin, telescopic instrument into the urinary tract and removes the stone(s).

Lithotripsy – A treatment for stones in the kidneys in which high-energy shock waves break up the stones so they can pass through the urine. The Urology Group’s equipment applies focused ultrasound to more effectively locate stones.

Percutaneous (through the skin) nephrolithotomy – If a stone is too large to pass on its own, a surgeon can remove it a using a medical device that reaches it through a slim tube fed into an incision in the back. 

Shooting to Be Stone-Free? Prevention Tips 

Here are a few pointers to ensure your pee shoots through your urinary system without stones. 

  • Drink plenty water. Aim for 11 to 15 cups a day, including water sources such as fruits, vegetables, tea, and coffee. 
  • Watch your animal proteins and salty foods. If most of your diet is based on red meat and processed foods, replace some servings with fruits and vegetables.
  • Do eat calcium. While most stones are formed by calcium, the mineral plays an important role in preventing them, by binding with oxalates before entering your kidneys so they pass. 
  • Stop smoking – Tobacco smoke includes scores of chemicals that studies have linked to stone formation.

Stones can be the pits, so stay in tune with your body. Much of what happens in there depends on what you do every day. 

You can learn more about kidney stone causes and treatments, and watch our-one minute video on the condition, here.

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