A hard, crystalline mineral material formed within the kidney or urinary tract is called a kidney stone. Blood in the urine (hematuria) and severe pain in the abdomen, flank or groin often result from kidney stones. By the name of renal calculi, kidney stones are also known. Nephrolithiasis is the condition of having kidney stones. Urolithiasis is the condition of having stones at any location in the urinary tract and the stones located in the ureters are referred to as ureterolithiasis.
Kidney stones may develop in any person, but the chance is more in people with certain diseases and conditions or those who are taking certain medications. In comparison to women, urinary tract stones are more common in men. According to a kidney specialist, in people 20 to 49 years of age, most urinary stones develop and some people, who are subject to multiple attacks of kidney stones, usually develop their first stones during the second or third decade of their life. Those people, who have already had more than one kidney stone, are subject to developing further stones.
When there is a decrease in urine volume and/or an excess of stone-forming substances in the urine, there is the formation of kidney stones. There is calcium in combination with either oxalate or phosphate in the most common type of kidney stone. Calcium stones comprise a majority of kidney stones. Uric acid, magnesium ammonium phosphate and the amino acid cysteine are other chemical compounds that can form stones in the urinary tract.
The risk of kidney stones increases due to dehydration from the reduced fluid intake or strenuous exercise. This risk is more in people who live in hot and dry areas. The stone formation can also result from obstruction to the urine flow. Infection in the urinary tract often leads to kidney stones, often known as struvite or infection stones. An individual’s risk of stone formation results from the alteration of the urine composition by metabolic abnormalities including inherited metabolism disorders. There are a number of medical conditions leading to an increased risk of developing kidney stones. Some of them are gout, hypercalciuria (high calcium in the urine), diabetes and high blood pressure.
For confirming the diagnosis, a kidney stone doctor usually asks one to go for imaging tests. A non-contrast CT scan of many patients who go to the emergency room is usually done. In recent times, for diagnosing kidney stones, ultrasound in combination with plain abdominal X-rays has been found effective. An ultrasound examination may also be done to help establish the diagnosis in pregnant women or those who should avoid radiation exposure.
If there is ample fluid intake, most kidney stones eventually pass on their own through the urinary tract within 48 hours. For controlling the pain, medications are used. In the case of patients having a known history of kidney stones, home treatment may be considered. This includes consuming plenty of fluids. To increase the passage rates of kidney stones, some medications are used. A procedure called lithotripsy is often used by a kidney specialist for kidney stones that do not pass on their own. Shock waves are used to disintegrate a large stone into smaller pieces so that they can easily pass through the urinary system. When all other treatment methods fail, surgery is the final option.