Kidney stones: Causes, symptoms, and treatment (2022)

Kidney stones develop when dissolved minerals build up inside the kidneys. A low fluid consumption, dietary factors, and a person’s medical history may contribute to their development.

Kidney stones may be small and pass unnoticed through the urinary tract, but some grow to the size of a golf ball. Larger stones can cause severe pain as they leave the body.

Without treatment, kidney stones can lead to urinary problems, infections, and kidney damage.

Kidney stones are a common problem in the United States, and the incidence appears to be growing. Dietary factors and climate change may contribute to this increase, according to one study.

In this article, we look at how to recognize kidney stones and explain what to do if they occur.

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Kidney stones do not always cause symptoms. A person may pass very small stones out of the body in the urine without being aware of them.

When symptoms appear, they commonly include:

  • pain in the groin, the side of the abdomen, or both
  • blood in the urine
  • vomiting and nausea
  • a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • fever and chills, if there is an infection
  • an increased need to urinate

If kidney stones block the passage of urine, a kidney infection may result. The symptoms include:

  • a fever and chills
  • weakness and fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • cloudy, foul-smelling urine

If a person has any of these symptoms, they should seek medical help at once.

Learn more about the early signs and symptoms of kidney stones.

Complications

When kidney stones remain inside the body, complications can develop.

If they block the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder, urine will not be able to pass out of the body. This dysfunction increases the risk of a UTI or kidney infection.

(Video) Kidney Stones (Nephrolithiasis) Signs & Symptoms | & Why They Occur

If recurring kidney stones cause blockages in the urinary system, this can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.

About 50% of people who have had a kidney stone develop another one within 5–7 years.

There are four different types of stone: calcium, uric acid, struvite, and cystine.

Calcium stones form when the kidneys retain the excess calcium that the muscles and bones do not use, rather than flushing it out of the body. The calcium combines with other waste products to form crystals, such as calcium oxalate, which clump together to make a stone.

Uric acid stones result from a lack of water in the body. Urine contains uric acid. When there is not enough water to dilute the uric acid, the urine becomes more acidic.

Struvite stones can form after a UTI. They consist of magnesium and ammonia.

Cystine stones develop when cystine, a substance present in the muscles, builds up in urine. These are rare.

The American Urological Association say that people who are susceptible to kidney stones should consume enough fluid to produce 2.5 liters (l), or about 85 ounces (oz), of urine each day. On average, this means consuming close to 3 l, or about 100 oz, of fluid a day. Not all of this needs to come from water.

Risk factors

Apart from dehydration, factors that increase the risk of kidney stones include:

  • a family or personal history of kidney stones
  • being aged 40 years or older, although they can sometimes affect children
  • sex, as they are more common in males than females
  • a diet that is high in protein and sodium
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • pregnancy
  • recent surgery on the digestive system
  • health conditions that affect how the body absorbs calcium, such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea

Various medications, such as allopurinol (Zyloprim) and topiramate (Topamax), can also increase the risk. People should check with their doctor if they have concerns about any medications they are taking.

Diagnosis

(Video) Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention | Mass General Brigham

Various tests can show whether a kidney stone is present.

  • A physical examination may identify the kidneys as the source of pain.
  • Urinalysis can reveal blood in the urine or signs of an infection.
  • Blood tests can help identify complications.
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or ultrasound, will reveal any structural changes.

Imaging tests can help doctors determine:

  • whether a stone is present
  • the size and location of any stones
  • whether there are any blockages
  • the condition of the urinary tract
  • whether complications have affected other organs

During pregnancy, an ultrasound is preferable to a CT scan, as it does not involve radiation.

Here, find out what kidney stones look like.

Treatment will focus on managing symptoms and removing the stone. There are various ways to do this.

Treatment may involve:

  • a high intake of fluids by mouth or intravenously
  • pain relief medication
  • medications to help speed up the passage of stones

How long do kidney stones take to pass?

Large stones

Large stones may need other types of intervention, such as shock wave lithotripsy (SWL), ureteroscopy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL).

SWL involves the use of ultrasound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces to make it easier to pass.

If a doctor opts to use ureteroscopy, they will pass a long, thin tube through the person’s urethra as far as the ureter, which connects the bladder and the kidney. They will then use laser energy to break up the stone.

PCNL involves passing a long, thin instrument through the back and into the kidney, where it can break up or remove the stone using laser energy. This procedure requires general anesthesia.

There may be a risk of complications, such as an infection, after removing a large kidney stone. A doctor should explain the possible complications beforehand so that if any develop, a person can recognize the signs.

A person can usually treat small kidney stones at home.

A doctor may recommend:

  • drinking plenty of fluid and waiting for the stone to pass
  • using over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain and nausea
  • taking alpha-blockers to help the stone pass more quickly
  • avoiding salt and sodas

They may advise the person to continue to drink plenty of fluid after the stones have gone to prevent new ones from forming.

(Video) Kidney Stones: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Some foods may benefit kidney health and help reduce the risk of kidney stones.

Herbs and spices

Guidelines from the American Family Physician (AFP) note that people have long used herbal remedies for kidney stones. However, there is uncertainty regarding their safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with other drugs.

The AFP add, though, that:

  • phytonutrients in green tea, berries, and turmeric may help prevent infection
  • parsley may boost urine production
  • Agropyron repens (couch grass) may help flush out the urinary tract

Proponents of natural remedies note that other foods and supplements that may help protect the kidneys include:

  • basil
  • celery
  • apples
  • grapes
  • pomegranates
  • vitamin B6 supplements
  • pyridoxine supplements

Some research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is common among people with kidney stones, but there is not enough evidence to show that vitamin D supplements are safe or effective for preventing stones.

Do kidney beans help?

Some people drink kidney bean broth to help the stones pass.

People can make the broth by boiling the pods inside the beans for about 6 hours and then straining them. Once the liquid has cooled, they can consume some every 2 hours for 1–2 days.

However, it is important to note that there is no scientific evidence to confirm that this is effective.

(Video) Kidney Stones Symptoms and Treatments

Foods to avoid

Limiting foods that contain the following substances may help prevent stones from developing:

  • protein
  • oxalate
  • sodium (salt)
  • sugar, such as high fructose corn syrup
  • vitamin C supplements

Oxalate is present in many common foods, such as:

  • nuts
  • rhubarb
  • beets
  • miso
  • tahini
  • Swiss chard

However, people should not completely avoid foods containing oxalates, calcium, and protein, as they can have other nutritional benefits.

Learn more about the kidney stone diet.

Kidney stones are not always preventable, but experts recommend that people reduce the overall risk by:

  • drinking at least 2 l of water each day
  • following a healthful diet
  • doing regular exercise

For those with a higher risk of developing kidney stones, a doctor may make dietary recommendations or prescribe medication.

Get more tips on preventing kidney stones.

Kidney stones are a common problem. Not drinking enough fluid is a major causative factor, but dietary habits, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute.

Anyone who has symptoms of a kidney stone, urine infection, or kidney infection should seek medical advice to prevent complications from developing.

FAQs

What symptoms can kidney stones cause? ›

Kidney stones form in your kidneys. As stones move into your ureters — the thin tubes that allow urine to pass from your kidneys to your bladder — signs and symptoms can result. Signs and symptoms of kidney stones can include severe pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and blood in your urine.

How kidney stones are caused? ›

Possible causes include drinking too little water, exercise (too much or too little), obesity, weight loss surgery, or eating food with too much salt or sugar. Infections and family history might be important in some people. Eating too much fructose correlates with increasing risk of developing a kidney stone.

What is kidney stone answer? ›

Kidney stones are hard objects, made up of millions of tiny crystals. Most kidney stones form on the interior surface of the kidney, where urine leaves the kidney tissue and enters the urinary collecting system. Kidney stones can be small, like a tiny pebble or grain of sand, but are often much larger.

What is the best treatment for kidney stones? ›

Treatment
  • Drinking water. Drinking as much as 2 to 3 quarts (1.8 to 3.6 liters) a day will keep your urine dilute and may prevent stones from forming. ...
  • Pain relievers. Passing a small stone can cause some discomfort. ...
  • Medical therapy. Your doctor may give you a medication to help pass your kidney stone.
3 Jun 2022

What food causes kidney stone? ›

Avoid stone-forming foods: Beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts are rich in oxalate, which can contribute to kidney stones. If you suffer from stones, your doctor may advise you to avoid these foods or to consume them in smaller amounts.

How long do kidney stones last? ›

A stone can remain in the kidney for years or decades without causing any symptoms or damage to the kidney. Typically, the stone will eventually move through the urinary tract (figure 1) and is passed out of the body in the urine. A stone may cause pain if it becomes stuck and blocks the flow of urine.

What are the first signs of kidney disease? ›

Symptoms
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Urinating more or less.
  • Decreased mental sharpness.
  • Muscle cramps.
3 Sept 2021

Can stress cause kidney stones? ›

Can stress cause kidney stones? Especially when combined with chronic dehydration, stress can trigger the formation of kidney stones. Stress overall can affect your kidneys. Stress can result in high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which can both affect the health of your heart and the kidneys.

Can tea cause kidney stones? ›

Tea is a big NO for those who suffer from kidney stones. This is because tea has very high oxalate content and oxalic acid aid in the forming of kidney stones. So, does tea cause kidney stones? The answer is yes, drinking too much tea can lead to the formation of kidney stones.

Can kidney stones damage your kidneys? ›

Complications of kidney stones

A large stone may get stuck in the urinary system. This can block the flow of urine and may cause strong pain. Kidney stones can cause permanent kidney damage. Stones also increase the risk of urinary and kidney infection, which can result in germs spreading into the bloodstream.

How big is a kidney stone? ›

Measuring the Kidney Stone Size

Between 4 mm and 6 mm, only 60 percent will pass without medical intervention, and on average take 45 days to exit your body naturally. Anything bigger than 6 mm will almost always need medical care to help remove the stone.

What removes kidney stones naturally? ›

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid which helps dissolve kidney stones. In addition to flushing out the kidneys, apple cider vinegar can also decrease any pain caused by the stones. In addition, water and lemon juice can help flush the stones and prevent future kidney stones.

How do doctors treat kidney stones? ›

The doctor uses a thin viewing tool, called a nephroscope, to locate and remove the kidney stone. The doctor inserts the tool directly into your kidney through a small cut made in your back. For larger kidney stones, the doctor also may use a laser to break the kidney stones into smaller pieces.

How kidney stone is removed? ›

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

PCNL involves using a thin telescopic instrument called a nephroscope. A small cut (incision) is made in your back and the nephroscope is passed through it and into your kidney. The stone is either pulled out or broken into smaller pieces using a laser or pneumatic energy.

Is Egg good for kidney stones? ›

Limit beef, pork, eggs, cheese, and fish, because they may raise your chances of most types of kidney stones. Vitamin C. Too much can make your body produce oxalate. So don't take more than 500 mg a day.

Which fruit is good for kidney stone? ›

Citrus fruit, and their juice, can help reduce or block the formation of stones due to naturally occurring citrate. Good sources of citrus include lemons, oranges, and grapefruit.

How can I remove kidney stones without surgery? ›

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a technique for treating stones in the kidney and ureter that does not require surgery. Instead, high energy shock waves are passed through the body and used to break stones into pieces as small as grains of sand.

Do kidney stones require surgery? ›

Some kidney stones often pass on their own without treatment. Other stones that are painful or that get stuck in your urinary tract sometimes need to be removed with surgery. You might have a procedure or surgery to take out kidney stones if: The stone is very large and can't pass on its own.

What size of kidney stone requires surgery? ›

Surgical treatment is usually recommended for stones 0.5 centimeters in size and larger, as well as for patients who fail conservative management. The procedures used today to remove stones are minimally invasive and highly effective.

How do I check myself for kidney stones? ›

How do I know if I have a kidney stone?
  1. Pain in the back or flank, typically on one side only.
  2. Lower abdominal pain.
  3. Blood in the urine.
  4. Constant need to urinate.
  5. Difficulty voiding.
  6. Painful urination.
  7. Nausea or vomiting.
  8. Fever, chills, or sweating.

What are the first signs of kidney stones in females? ›

Kidney stone symptoms include:
  • Sharp pain in the lower abdomen, typically on one side.
  • A burning sensation or pain while urinating.
  • Urinating frequently.
  • Feeling like you're urinating incompletely or in small amounts.
  • Urine that is brown, red or pink, which indicates the presence of blood.
  • Smelly or cloudy urine.
18 May 2021

Do kidney stones make you tired? ›

chills and shivering. feeling very weak or tired. diarrhoea. cloudy and bad-smelling urine.

When should you go to the ER for kidney stones? ›

You should go to the hospital or seek medical attention for these kidney stone symptoms: A sharp pain in the side, back or lower abdomen. Pain when urinating. Blood in the urine (hematuria)

What removes kidney stones naturally? ›

Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid which helps dissolve kidney stones. In addition to flushing out the kidneys, apple cider vinegar can also decrease any pain caused by the stones. In addition, water and lemon juice can help flush the stones and prevent future kidney stones.

What are the first signs of kidney disease? ›

Symptoms
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Urinating more or less.
  • Decreased mental sharpness.
  • Muscle cramps.
3 Sept 2021

How can I remove kidney stones without surgery? ›

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a technique for treating stones in the kidney and ureter that does not require surgery. Instead, high energy shock waves are passed through the body and used to break stones into pieces as small as grains of sand.

Where on body is kidney pain? ›

You feel kidney pain in the area where your kidneys are located: Near the middle of your back, just under your ribcage, on each side of your spine. Your kidneys are part of the urinary tract, the organs that make urine (i.e., pee) and remove it from your body.

How can I relieve kidney stone pain fast? ›

Over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve), can help you endure the discomfort until the stones pass. Your doctor also may prescribe an alpha blocker, which relaxes the muscles in your ureter and helps pass stones quicker and with less pain.

Do kidney stones make you pee a lot? ›

In some cases, a person with a kidney stone may notice symptoms similar to those of a urinary tract infection (UTI). These include: more frequent urination or urges to urinate. pain or discomfort during urination.

Do kidney stones cause gas? ›

Look for these telltale symptoms of a kidney stone. Severe, sharp pain in your groin, back, or side. It may begin slowly, just feeling like gas pains, upset stomach, or menstrual cramps.

Can kidney stones cause kidney failure? ›

Kidney stones are solid crystals formed from the salts in urine. They are sometimes called renal calculi. Kidney stones can block the flow of urine and cause infection, kidney damage or even kidney failure.

What happens if you can't pass a kidney stone? ›

A large kidney stone can get trapped in your ureter (the tube that drains urine from your kidney down to your bladder). When this happens, the stone can cause bleeding and keep urine from leaving your body. You may need surgery for a stone that can't pass on its own.

Do kidney stones require surgery? ›

Some kidney stones often pass on their own without treatment. Other stones that are painful or that get stuck in your urinary tract sometimes need to be removed with surgery. You might have a procedure or surgery to take out kidney stones if: The stone is very large and can't pass on its own.

Do you need a CT scan for kidney stones? ›

If you've never had kidney stones before, your doctor might order a CT scan. This test uses X-rays to take pictures inside your body. The scan is done to check for other health problems, such as gall bladder disease or appendicitis. If you get kidney stones again, you may need another CT scan if you are over age 50.

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