Kidney stones are small hard stones that form in the kidneys and causes extreme discomfort until they pass through. Most people are willing to try anything to pass a kidney stone quickly. The pain caused by passing a kidney stone is often compared to childbirth. Before making any assumptions about your diagnosis, check with your doctor to confirm that your pain is indeed associated with a kidney stone.
What is a Kidney Stone?
Kidney stones (nephrolithiasis) are small hard deposits of minerals that form inside your kidneys. These minerals are common in urine but will form into stones when they become more concentrated.Calcium stones are the most common, but other types include uric acid stones, struvite infection stones, and cystine stones. It is important to have the stone tested after it has passed to determine what type it was.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
There are many reasons why some people are prone to develop kidney stones:
- Dehydration or drinking too little fluid
- Recurrent urinary tract infections
- Family history
- Previous or ongoing medical conditions that cause your body to produce more of the minerals in your urine
Men are significantly more likely to develop kidney stones than women.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Kidney stones range in size, from a grain of salt to a golf ball. Small ones can pass without any discomfort. If a stone blocks the flow of urine, or moves slowly through your system, it can cause extreme pain and inflammation. Symptoms may include:
- Sudden severe waves of pain in the small of the back or lower abdomen
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the urine
- Difficulty passing urine
- Chills and fever
Diagnosing a Kidney Stone
People experiencing any of the symptoms listed above are advised to seek medical attention as soon as possible. Doctors may want to perform an X-ray, an ultrasound or a CT scan to determine the size and position of the stone. If a stone is large, it will be more difficult to pass. You may also be asked to provide a urine sample for testing.
Medications and Prescriptions
Doctors often provide painkillers to help patients manage discomfort and pain. They may also prescribe tamsulosin. This medication helps to relax the ureters, the tubes between the kidneys and bladder, to help the body to pass the stone through.Always follow the instructions of the doctor when taking medications, including the appropriate dose and frequency.
Often patients will be instructed to wait for the stone to pass at home, assuming it is small enough to pass and no infection is present. Drinking lots of fluids, particularly water, will help to flush the stone out more quickly. It is recommended to drink enough water that urine appears as pale or clear in color. Stones can sometimes take as long as four to six weeks to pass through, as long as the discomfort is manageable.
In cases where a kidney stone is large, infection is present, or there is a urine blockage, doctors may recommend surgery. Many of the options available are minimally invasive with short recovery times. These include:
- Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL). This procedure uses shockwaves to blast the stone into passable smaller pieces.
- Ureteroscopy (URS). A tiny telescope, called a ureteroscope, is passed into the bladder and through the ureter. Once the stone has been located, it can be pulled out of the patient or broken into smaller pieces.
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL). This is a surgical procedure used on large kidney stones. It requires a small incision in the back of the patient. An instrument is passed through a small scope that can break up the stone and suction out the pieces.
Patience and Recovery
Kidney stones seem to develop out of nowhere and cause sudden intense pain. It can be frustrating to be told that the only treatment is to wait. However, by following the instructions of your doctor, and by monitoring your urine output, the stones will eventually pass. In many cases, pain is not present during the entire process. Stay in touch with your doctor if you continue to have unbearable symptoms or are concerned about the lack of progress.
Prevention of Kidney Stones
Most patients would agree that one kidney stone was more than enough. Prevention of future stones is possible with some small lifestyle changes:
- Drink plenty of water. Up to three quarts of fluids per day will help to increase urine output.
- Reduce your salt intake. Many snack foods and condiments contain high levels of sodium.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reduce the amount of meat.
- Eat fewer oxalate-rich foods. These include rhubarb, beets, spinach, and almonds.
Once the stone has moved through your system and into your bladder, the pain will likely subside very quickly. Just be sure to keep up the good habits of drinking lots of fluids and eating healthy food to ensure that new stones do not develop. It’s always a good feeling to know your body is recovering and that you’ve learned how to quickly pass a kidney stone.