Kidney stones are hard mineral and salt collections that form inside your kidneys and are quite common. Each year, more than half a million men and women in the United States seek medical treatment for kidney stones and this number is growing. The National Kidney Foundation states the occurrence of kidney stones has increased from 3.8% in the late 1970s to 8.8% in the late 2000s in both men and women.
The rise in the number of kidney stones can be linked to the prevalence of certain medical conditions in the U.S. that affect the kidneys, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The increased risk of developing a kidney stone makes it all the more important to understand the risk factors, symptoms and what to do if you believe you or a loved one has a kidney stone.
Risk Factors for Kidney Stones
Anyone can develop a kidney stone, but certain risk factors may increase your chances. In addition, certain health conditions, particularly conditions that affect substance levels in urine, may affect the risk of developing kidney stones. The risk factors for developing kidney stones include:
- Reoccurring urinary tract infections
- Family history of kidney stones or kidney cysts
- Parathyroid disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Hypercalciuria (high levels of calcium in the urine)
- Weight loss surgery
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Cystic fibrosis
It’s important to note that dehydration can affect your kidneys and be a contributing factor in developing kidney stones. Drinking fluids helps to flush wastes from your blood in the form of urine. When this process is slowed down, a build-up of wastes and acids can occur. The Urology Care Foundation recommends that adults drink three liters of fluids each day (with water being your best choice).
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
The signs and symptoms of kidney stones can be linked to their size. If you have a small kidney stone, you may easily be able to pass it without any noticeable symptoms. However, larger kidney stones can produce a multitude of symptoms, ranging from moderate to severe. Here are the most common symptoms of kidney stones and when you should visit a doctor:
- - Renal colic (abdominal pain): This pain is vastly different from your typical stomach ache; renal colic is a severe, shooting pain that results from when a large kidney stone is blocking the urinary tract. Renal colic can produce severe discomfort in your ribs, hips, lower back, groin area and lower abdomen. If you are experiencing symptoms of renal colic, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.
- - Nausea and vomiting: Shared nerve connections between your kidney and GI tract can create an upset stomach. In addition, severe pain, which is often associated with renal colic, can also incite nausea. If nausea or vomiting is coinciding with other kidney stone symptoms, it’s time to go to the doctor.
- Hematuria (blood in the urine): This is a fairly common symptom of kidney stones. The presence of blood can change the urine color to pink, red or brown. If you’re noticing even a small presence of blood in your urine, we recommend visiting the doctor.
- Having the urge to frequently urinate: If you feel the need to urinate often, but are only urinating small amounts at a time, it may be a sign that a kidney stone is passing through the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidney to the bladder). Note, that this symptom alone should be a reason to visit your doctor as soon as possible as a large kidney stone can actually block the ureter.
- Urine that is cloudy or has a strong odor: Healthy urine should be clear and not contain a foul smell. An ‘off’ or poignant smell in your urine can mean that there is an infection in your kidneys or urinary tract. If you are experiencing this symptom along with others on the list, it is recommended to seek medical care.
- Pain or burning during urination: This usually occurs when your body is in the process of passing a kidney stone through the ureter and it’s become partially or completely blocked. If you’re experiencing extreme discomfort while urinating or feel like you need to sit or lay in a certain position to relieve the pain, it is time to seek medical attention.
- Fever and chills: Along with the above symptoms, you may also develop a fever and chills. If this occurs, it can mean that you have an infection in your kidney or urinary tract. If you develop a fever or chills along with any of the other symptoms, we recommend going to the doctor immediately.
While small kidney stones may be asymptomatic and passed naturally through the body, large kidney stones can result in complications if not treated timely. If kidney stones are left untreated, they result in a urinary tract infection or damage to your kidney. It’s important to recognize these signs and symptoms and quickly seek medical attention if needed.
If you expect that you may have symptoms of kidney stones, or want to discuss your risk of developing kidney stones, contact your primary care physician. To find a board-certified PACT primary care physician in Connecticut, please use our searchable list here. PACT also has the Connecticut Kidney Center which specializes in providing state-of-the-art medical care to patients with kidney disease, including kidney stones.