Say Goodbye To Kidney Stones: Understanding The Causes, Symptoms, And Treatment Options

Posted On May 03, 2023

5 Min Read

Department of Nephrology

Manipal Hospitals

Nephrology Hospital in Bangalore

Hard deposits of salts, minerals, and other chemicals formed inside the kidney are called “kidney stones”. Some other medical terms for kidney stones are renal calculi, nephrolithiasis, or urolithiasis. As per a study, they occur in 1 out of 10 people in the world at some point in their lives.

Renal stones or urinary stones are a major health concern to our body as they can block the flow of urine causing the kidney to swell and the ureter to spasm, resulting in a lot of pain and suffering. If not treated properly and on time, the condition can worsen, resulting in complications such as UTI or even kidney failure.

Causes of Kidney Stones

There are several factors that can contribute to the development of kidney stones. Some of the important causes listed by the best nephrologists in Bangalore are below:

  • Drinking Less Water than Required (Dehydration)

Your risk of getting kidney stones can increase if you don't drink enough water every day. In fact, it is one of the most common causes of kidney stones. Drinking less water can lead to reduced diuresis, resulting in concentrated urine, which in turn can lead to the supersaturation of minerals contributing to the formation of kidney stones.

  • Too much or Too Little Exercise

Research has shown us that even small amounts of exercise daily can reduce the risk of getting kidney stones. On the other end of the spectrum, too much exercise can also contribute to the formation of stones. This is because too much exercising can lead to heavy sweating, leading to less urine production, hence allowing stone-causing minerals to settle and bond in the kidneys and urinary tract.

  • Obesity

Obesity is linked to metabolic abnormalities such as insulin resistance and compensatory hyperinsulinemia that could produce calcium-containing kidney stones.

  • Bariatric or other Weight-loss Surgery

Patients who have undergone bariatric surgery are more likely to develop kidney stones. According to research, those who have undergone gastric bypass have altered urine and greater concentrations of oxalates, the particles that cause kidney stones.

  • Consumption of Foods with too much Salt or Sugar

Diets high in sugar and salt raise the risk of kidney stones.

Apart from these causes, there are other certain risk factors like gastrointestinal disease and surgery, inflammatory bowel disease, chronic diarrhoea, and gastric bypass disease. Infections and family history can also be the cause of developing stones in the kidney.

Dr. Madhav Sanzgiri, Consultant - Urologist, Manipal Hospitals Goa, talks about the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment procedure for kidney stones. Watch the full video to know more.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are different types of kidney stones and although there can be multiple reasons for developing these stones, they mainly depend on your diet and family history. The five major types of kidney stones are:

Calcium Oxalate Stones

Did you know that the most common type of urinary stones are calcium oxalate stones? These stones form when there are low levels of citrate and high levels of calcium and oxalate or uric acid in your urine. Foods high in oxalate, like beets, potatoes, nuts, black tea, chocolate, and spinach, are often the reason behind these stones. 

If you're someone who gets these stones frequently, you should consult a nephrologist and get further tests and dietary changes to prevent them from coming back. This could include collecting urine samples and getting blood tests to get your urinary function and metabolism checked.

Uric Acid Stones

Uric acid stones are more common in men and can be caused by not drinking enough water or eating too much animal protein. If you have a family history of this type of kidney stone, or gout, or have undergone chemotherapy, you may also be at a higher risk. So, make sure to drink plenty of water and eat a balanced diet to keep these pesky stones at bay.

Struvite Stones

Women are more likely to develop struvite stones than men. These kidney stones are formed due to certain types of urinary tract infections and can grow quite quickly, sometimes taking up the entire kidney! If left untreated, they can cause frequent and severe urinary tract infections, and even lead to a loss of kidney function. So, if you're experiencing any unusual symptoms, don't hesitate to see a doctor to prevent these stones from taking over your kidneys.

Cystine Stones

Cystine stones are caused by a hereditary genetic disorder called cystinuria that can lead to an excessive amount of cystine in your urine. As a result, stones can form in your kidneys, bladder, and even the ureters that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It can be quite painful and even lead to kidney damage if left untreated. So, if you have a family history of cystinuria or experiencing any symptoms, don't hesitate to consult with a doctor to keep your kidneys healthy.

Staghorn Calculus

A staghorn calculus, or branching kidney stone, may form due to repeated urinary tract infections (UTIs). They can be made of struvite, a mix of magnesium, phosphate, and ammonium if formed due to infections. Otherwise, staghorn calculi are often composed of calcium phosphate, calcium oxalate, or a mix of calcium carbonate apatite along with struvite if a smaller stone grows larger over time.

Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can be asymptomatic until they start moving around or blocking the flow of urine. Once a kidney stone gets lodged in the ureters, it may cause severe kidney pain in the side and back, below the ribs, which can radiate to the lower abdomen and groyne. The main symptoms of kidney stones are:

  • Severe, sharp pain in the side and back, below the ribs.

  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groyne.

  • Pain comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity.

  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating.

  • Pink, red, or brown urine

  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine

  • A persistent need to urinate, urinate more often than usual, or urinate in small amounts.

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Fever and chills if an infection is present.

To know the symptoms in detail, read the blog on the 9 most common symptoms of kidney stones written with the intention of educating people by the team of the best nephrologists in Bangalore.

Diagnosis and Treatment Options for Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can be diagnosed with some procedures like blood tests, urine tests, CT scans or X-rays, and analysis of passed stones. The treatment options for kidney stones depend on the stage and severity of the stones. If the urinary system stones are small with minimal symptoms, they don’t require invasive treatment. Those stones can be flushed out of the body by drinking water or with the help of some medications. 

For more large and advanced kidney stones, patients need more extensive treatment. These are:

  • Extracorporeal Shockwave Lithotripsy (ESWL)

Sound waves are used to break stones into tiny pieces that pass in urine. The procedure lasts 45-60 minutes, causes moderate pain, and requires sedation or anaesthesia.

  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy

Surgery for large stones in the kidney. Small telescopes and instruments are used to remove the stone through a small incision in your back. General anaesthesia is required and hospitalisation for 1-2 days is necessary.

  • Ureteroscopy

For smaller stones, a ureteroscope is used to locate the stone and break it into smaller pieces that pass in the urine. A stent may be placed in the ureter for healing. General or local anaesthesia is needed.

  • Parathyroid Gland Surgery

Overactive parathyroid glands can cause calcium phosphate stones. A benign tumour in the gland or another condition that increases parathyroid hormone production can be treated with surgery to remove the growth.

Prevention Methods for Kidney Stones

Staying hydrated is key to preventing kidney stones. Men should aim for 3.7 litres and women for 2.7 litres of water per day as it is the recommended water intake limit by the WHO. Other prevention methods are:

  • Eat more Calcium-rich foods

Contrary to common belief, consuming calcium-rich foods can actually help prevent kidney stones. This is because calcium binds with oxalate in the digestive system, reducing the amount of oxalate that gets into the bloodstream and ultimately the urine, which can lead to the formation of kidney stones. However, don’t go for calcium supplements.

  • Less Sodium Consumption

Avoid consuming too much sodium as excess sodium in urine prevents calcium from being reabsorbed from the urine to the blood. This causes high urine calcium, which may lead to kidney stones.

  • Limit your Intake of Oxalate-rich foods

Avoid or limit your consumption of oxalate-rich foods like spinach, chocolate, sweet potatoes, coffee, beets, peanuts, soy products, and wheat bran. Natural compounds found in these foods bind with calcium in the urine to form kidney stones.

  • Eat less Animal Protein

Animal protein-rich foods can lead to the development of kidney stones due to increased urine acid as it can cause uric acid and calcium oxalate stones. Avoid or limit the intake of beef, poultry, fish, and pork.

When to See a Doctor?

You should seek medical attention at the most reputed nephrology hospital in Bangalore if you have the following symptoms:

  • Severe pain prevents comfort.

  • Pain with nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills.

  • Blood in urine or difficulty passing urine.

  • Burning sensation while urinating.