Kidney Stones

Information on the Causes and Symptoms of Kidney Stones (Gravel), Recurrence and Discomfort.

Select a Topic

  1. What are Kidney Stones?
  2. Diagnosing Kidney Stones
  3. What Causes Kidney Stones?
  4. Help for Kidney Stones
  5. More Information on Kidney Stones

What are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits resembling grains of sand that form inside the kidney. They are made from minerals and salts.

These deposits have many causes and can affect various parts of the urinary system. They are more likely to form when urine is concentrated. This allows the crystalized minerals to accumulate and stick together.

When the deposits get stuck in the urethra or the bladder, they block the flow of urine. This urinary obstruction causes intense pain in the back or side. It increases the risk of urinary tract infection and raises the possibility of infection spreading into the bloodstream.

To pass a kidney stone is notoriously painful. Some people are able to control the pain with just pain medication and hydration. More severe instances may require surgery.

If your medical team thinks you’re at risk of kidney stones developing repeatedly, they may recommend additional preventive treatment.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

If you have symptoms of kidney stones, start by contacting your family doctor. They may refer you to a urinary tract specialist (nephrologist or urologist) if needed.

To prepare for your appointment, ask your practitioner if there’s anything you need to do beforehand. You may need to limit eating or drinking if lab tests are needed. Write down all your symptoms for your doctor, even if they seem unrelated. Make sure you write down any medicines you take, including supplements and vitamins.

Diagnosis is based on symptoms, physical examination & medical history. Your doctor may run several tests, including:
  • Urine Analysis
    -
    To detect the presence of blood and bacteria in the urine.
  • Blood testing
    -
    Blood tests can detect too much calcium or uric acid in your blood.
  • Urine analysis
    -
    To detect blood and bacteria in the urine.
  • Ultrasound
    -
    Ultrasound can help to visualize stones in the urinary system, including the ureters and urethra. Unfortunately, very small masses are not often visible on ultrasound.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)
    -
    During this procedure, a series of X-rays is taken after injecting a contrast agent (dye) into the vein. As this dye is filtered in the urinary system and excreted in the urine, your doctor can detect blockages and their location.
  • Retrograde pyelogram
    -
    Following cystoscopy (where the interior of the bladder is examined by an endoscope) dye is injected directly into the urinary system and then its outflow is monitored. This allows for a more detailed picture of the urinary system, and is useful in instances where renal function is impaired.
  • Computerized tomography (CT scan)
    -
    A scanner and computer are used to create images of the urinary system during this procedure.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones

The signs and symptoms of kidney stones in the kidneys, urethra, or bladder include:

  • Severe pain in the back, extending to the bladder and groin
  • Painful urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Small particles that look like gravel are excreted during urination
  • Sweating and fever accompanied by shivers
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Urinating only small amounts
  • Bloody urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Fever or chills, signs of infectione

What Causes Kidney Stones?

These deposits form when urine contains more crystal-forming substances, such as calcium, uric acid and oxalate, than the body can dilute. Many factors play a role, although there is no single cause. Sometimes they are caused by a combination of medical conditions.

Possible Causes of Kidney Stones
  • Inadequate fluid intake
  • Dehydration
  • Reduced urinary flow and volume
  • Chemical levels in the urine that are too high, such as calcium, phosphate, oxalate, or uric acid
  • Chemical levels in the urine that are too low, such as citrate
  • As a side effect of certain medications
  • Recurring urinary tract infections
  • Family history of stone formation
  • A diet high in protein, salt or glucose
  • Obesity
  • Rare genetic conditions
  • Anatomical abnormalities

The most common type, made from accumulated calcium, are often caused by:

  • Very high bowel absorption of calcium or oxalate
  • Very high escape of calcium phosphate or oxalate into the urine
  • Overactive parathyroid glands in the neck

Other instances may be due to:

  • The body’s inability to break down and use chemicals, particularly if there is a high level of uric acid in the urine
  • The structure or metabolism of the urinary system

 

Treatment for Kidney Stones

Treatment depends on the size, type and underlying cause. Masses that are smaller than 4mm usually pass freely but ones larger than 5mm rarely pass naturally. Options include conventional medicine, complementary therapy and natural remedies to offer pain relief and prevent recurrence.

The best treatment path is to let stones pass on their own, although it can be extremely painful. They may need to be removed if they struggle to pass through, block urine flow, grow larger or cause bleeding and infection. Usually they can be treated without surgery.

Conventional pain medication
  • Oral analgesics may be prescribed to reduce moderate pain.
  • Injectable medications may be administered intravenously (IV) or intramuscularly injection for severe pain.
  • To reduce nausea and vomiting, prescription medication may be recommended.
  • Laser and surgical options can be used to remove or disintegrate larger masses.

 

Complementary therapy may help prevent recurrence. Examples of helpful natural remedies are:
  • Body cleansing
  • Nutritional therapy
  • Vitamin and mineral therapy
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Reflexology
  • Aerobics, swimming, martial arts and stretching
  • Yoga, meditation, and tai chi
  • Herbal supplements such as Kidney Dr.™ for Kidney Functioning support total urinary system health.

 

More Information on Kidney Stones

There are several ways to reduce common risk factors and support urinary system health:
  • Drink plenty of water, at least eight glasses a day, to stay hydrated
  • Eat leafy green vegetables, fruit, whole grains, legumes, and fish and poultry in small portions
  • Drink lemonade with real lemon juice, which contains citrate
  • Limit sugar, alcohol, protein, dairy products, salt, caffeine, and refined white flour products such as pasta
  • Exercise regularly, because physical activity helps the passing process
  • Increase your intake of magnesium and vitamin B6 supplements
  • Use hot packs or castor oil packs to relieve pain and cramping

 

Other less common names for this condition include:

  • urinary calculus
  • renal calculus
  • nephrolith
  • nephrolithiasis
  • renal lithiasis
  • urolithiasis
 
The content provided is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have a health condition, please consult a medical professional and do not use this information to self-diagnose or self-treat.
Reviewed by Master Herbalist, Mary Ellen Kosanke

References:

  1. “Kidney Stones.” Mayo Clinic. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/kidney-stones/symptoms-causes/syc-20355755
  2. Crosta, Peter. “How Do You Get Kidney Stones?” Medical News Today. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154193.php
  3. “What Are Kidney Stones?” Urology Care Foundation. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urologic-conditions/kidney-stones
  4. “Kidney Stones Health Center.” WebMD. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.webmd.com/kidney-stones/default.htm
  5. “Kidney Stones.” Healthline. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/kidney-stones
  6. “Kidney Stones.” MedlinePlus. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://medlineplus.gov/kidneystones.html
  7. “Kidney Stones.” National Kidney Foundation. Accessed January 9, 2020. https://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones