Kidney stones are small crystallized minerals that can range in size from tiny grain-sized bits to golf ball-sized masses. Best known for the bouts of mind-boggling pain they can cause, kidney stones are becoming increasingly common. They affect about one out of every ten Americans and if you have had them once, there is a 50 percent chance they will reappear at some point.
Kidney stones can bring about a variety of symptoms including blood in urine, pain during urination, nausea, fever, chills, and – usually worst of all – jarring pain in the abdomen and lower back. By examining symptoms alone, kidney stones are among the easiest conditions to diagnose. This is due to the uniquely brutal pain that they so often cause. While blood in urine, burning during urination, fever, and nausea are common symptoms individually in a number of conditions, the pain caused by kidney stones is all but unmistakable for that of any other issue.
Beyond examining the symptoms they cause, kidney stones can be diagnosed medically through a few possible tests. According to the Duke University Health System, CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasound may be used to determine the existence, size, and shape of kidney stones. Urine testing may also be done to scan for both the existence of stones and for any infection that may also be present.
Treatments for kidney stones have evolved significantly, though small manageable stones are usually allowed to pass on their own. If kidney stones are able to pass, the main treatment is simply to drink plenty of water; the National Institute of Health recommends about eight glasses a day. Staying hydrated is also one of the best ways to prevent kidney stones from ever developing. Drugs may also be recommended or prescribed by your doctor to relieve the pain.
The Kidney Stone Treatment Center of UCLA refers to several treatments doctors may use to remove or pulverize kidney stones. One such treatment, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, utilizes the vibrations of sound waves to attack stones with the aim of breaking them into manageable pieces. Another treatment, percutaneous stone removal, is a surgical procedure that uses a small scope to remove or crush kidney stones. Ureteroscopic stone removal may be used if the stone has moved from the kidneys into the ureter. According to Duke University Health, open surgery is essentially a last resort option that is generally reserved for particularly large, badly shaped, or otherwise complicated stones.
If you ever suspect that you have kidney stones, contact your doctor as soon as possible. While small stones can often be passed without intervention, some large or oddly shaped stones can cause complications and should not be left untreated.
Duke University Health System, “Kidney Stones Patient Guide.” Duke University.
UCLA Center for General Adult Urology, “Kidney Stone Treatment Center.” University of California, Los Angeles.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, “Kidney Stones.” National Institutes of Health.