Kidney Stones - Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Prevention

Kidney stones

Dr.Sree Bhushan Raju profile Authored by Dr.Sree Bhushan Raju on 7 Feb 2014 - 15:29.

kidney stones

Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. They are a hard crystalline mass that is formed as a result of the accumulation of insoluble form of calcium (calcium oxalate) inside the kidney, ureter or the bladder. The concentration of dissolved minerals leads to formation of crystalline structures.

The presence of significant size stones in the kidney or its passage through the ureter can cause severe pain, leading to the blockage of ureter. However, tiny stones may go unnoticed and do not cause pain or any permanent damage to the kidneys.


The formation of kidney stones however, has no definite cause. However, many factors may increase the risk of developing it. The possibility of developing kidney stones is high when urine is very concentrated, which means the level of crystal forming substances is greater than the fluid in urine. Few predicted factors responsible for kidney stones are as follows:

  • Drinking insufficient fluid
  • Infections (ex. Urinary tract infection)
  • Genetic factors and hereditary disorders
  • Medicines (Ex. Diuretics, medicines used to treat cancer and HIV)

Usually kidney stones show up symptoms only when they move into the kidney or ureter. Presence and passing of kidney stones may present with symptoms such as

  • Pain in the side of the abdomen (mild to severe).
  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs.
  • Renal colic - This is on and off pain spreading down into the lower abdomen or groin due to stones that passes into the ureter.
  • Wavy and fluctuating pain
  • Sweating and feeling sick
  • Pink, red or dark brown color urine
  • Urine infections which leads to fever and chills
  • Very frequent urination
  • Pain while passing urine
  • Cloudy urine with foul odour
  • Nausea and vomiting

Based on the symptoms revealed, if a kidney stone is suspected, it requires few tests and procedures to be done which may confirm the diagnosis. Diagnostic tests and procedures may include:

  • Urine test – To detect stone forming minerals and passed stone
  • Blood tests – To detect increased levels of calcium or uric acid and working of kidneys.
  • Abdominal X-ray – To detect stones with significant size.
  • High-speed computerized tomography (CT) – To detect even tiny stones.
  • Intravenous Pyelography – A procedure of taking X-Ray using dye which is injected into the arm vein that travels down to the kidneys and the bladder.

Factors increasing risk of developing kidney stones are:

  • Male gender
  • Over 40 years of age
  • Having stones in the past
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Urine or kidney infections
  • Scars or cysts on kidney

Treatment plan for kidney stones can be different based on its root cause. Small kidney stones of about 5mm pass out through urine. Drinking plenty of water will help to get the stone flushed out of the body faster. If the stone is about 10mm, the doctor prescribes medicines that help break down the stone for it to pass through the urine.

Most commonly practiced treatment options are:

  • Pain relieving medicines (Eg. Ibuprofen, Acetaminophen, Naproxen sodium).
  • Medicines to pass smaller kidney stones (Ex. alpha blockers) which helps to pass stones with less pain.
  • Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL)- During this therapy, shock waves are passed through the skin of the abdomen for the kidney stone to break up into tiny pieces and pass out through the urine.
  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL) – When the stone is large and cannot be removed through any of the above mentioned procedures, the doctor recommends a keyhole surgery. These surgeries include Percutaneous nephrolithotomy.
  • Ureteroscopy is used to remove smaller stones.

The recommended preventive measures for kidney stones include:

  • Drinking enough water
  • Avoiding Oxalate content diet (Ex. coffee and spinach)
  • Consuming low salt diet
*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.