Kidney stones are one of the most common and painful urological problems. Kidney stones are hard masses or crystals that build up on the inside of your kidneys. They can vary in size from a grain of salt to a golf ball.
Small stones can travel through your urinary system and pass out of your body in your urine without pain. Larger stones usually start to cause pain and other symptoms when they move around in your kidneys or into other parts of your urinary system and begin to block the outflow of urine. Symptoms include:
- Extreme pain in your side and back, below your ribs
- Pain that spreads to your lower abdomen and groin area
- Pain that comes and goes and changes in intensity
- Nausea, vomiting, fever or chills
- Pink, red or brown urine
- Cloudy or bad smelling urine
- Persistent urge to urinate or urinating more than usual
An X-ray or CT scan will reveal the location, size and number of stones, all of which will be used to determine appropriate treatment.
Small Stones: If your stone is small, your doctor may recommend you try to pass it out in your urine. To do this, you need to drink a lot of water so that your urine is almost clear. Normally, your doctor will prescribe a pain medication to help with the discomfort and a medication help your ureters (the tubes that carry urine) relax to allow the stone to pass.
Large or Complicated Stones: If your stone is too large to pass, blocking the flow of urine or causing other complications, your doctor may recommend one of these treatments.
- Shockwave Lithotripsy: In an outpatient surgery center, your urologist uses a machine called a lithotriper to direct ultrasonic shock waves to hit the stone repeatedly until it crumbles into small particles that you an pass in your urine. This is the most frequently used procedure for eliminating kidney stones.
- Ureteroscopy: In this procedure, your urologist passes a flexible tube with a camera through your urethra. A wisk-like basket on the end of the scope snares the stone and removes it. If the stone is too large, the urologist can use a laser inserted through the scope to break the stone apart. After a ureteroscopy, the urologist places a stent in the ureter to hold it open until the swelling subsides. The stent is removed a days later.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: For large stones that can’t be effectively treated with lithotripsy or ureteroscopy, your urologist can perform a minimally-invasive surgery through a 1 centimeter incision in your back. Using a scope and special tools, the urologist can break apart the stone and suction it out.
Once you’ve had a kidney stone, you are more likely to have future stones. To minimize your chances of getting additional stones, follow these guidelines.
- Drink water. Water helps keep your urine from becoming too concentrated and forming crystals. A good rule of thumb is to drink enough water to keep your urine a faint yellow color.
- Limit salt. Salt, which is often found in processed foods, can lead to dehydration, causing your urine to become too concentrated.
- Avoid certain foods. For calcium stones, the most common type of kidney stones, avoid foods with high amount of oxalate including coffee, tea, chocolate, wheat bran, spinach, and strawberries. See a full list of low and high oxalate foods.
Download our Diet Recommendations for Kidney Stone Prevention
Can limiting my intake of foods with calcium help prevent calcium stones?
Despite the fact that calcium is a major component of most kidney stones, excessive calcium intake is very rarely the cause of stone formation and limiting calcium won’t help prevent stones.
Does “hard” or calcium-laden water cause kidney stones?
No, drinking hard water does not cause an increase in kidney stone formation. In fact, drinking plenty of water, whether hard or soft, is key to staying hydrated and preventing kidney stones.