If you ever have severe pain in your belly or one side of your back that comes and goes suddenly, you may be passing a kidney stone. Let's talk about the painful condition of kidney stones.
A kidney stone is a mass of tiny crystals in your kidney or urinary tract. Stones are quite common, and tend to run in families. They can form in weeks or months when your urine contains too much of certain substances.
There are several kinds of kidney stones. Calcium stones are by far the most common kind. They often form in men between the ages of 20 to 30. Calcium can combine with other substances found in your food, like oxalate, phosphate, or carbonate, to form stones.
Cystine stones can form in people who have cystinuria, a condition passed down through families in which stones are made from an amino acid called cystine. Struvite stones are found mostly in women who have urinary tract infections. These stones can grow very large and can block the kidney, ureter, or bladder. Uric acid stones are more common in men than in women. They can occur in people who have a history of gout or are going through chemotherapy.
So, how do you know if you have kidney stones?
Well, you may not have symptoms until the stone move down the ureter tubes through which urine empties into your bladder. When this happens, the stones can block the flow of urine out of your kidneys. The main symptom is severe sharp pain that starts suddenly, usually in your belly or one side of your back, and it may go away just as quickly. Other symptoms can include abnormal urine color, blood in your urine, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting.
So, what do you do about kidney stones?
Well, your health care provider will perform a physical exam. You may need blood tests, kidney function tests, and tests that look for crystals in your urine. Several imaging tests, like a CT scan, can see stones or a blockage in your urinary tract.
Treatment will depend on the type of stone you have, and how bad your symptoms are. Small kidney stones that are less than 5 mm in diameter will usually pass on their own. You should drink at least 6 to 8 glasses of water per day to produce a large enough amount of urine to help bring the stone out.
Pain can be pretty bad when you pass a kidney stone, so your doctor may prescribe pain medicines to help as well as medications that will help the stone pass. Other medicines can decrease stone formation or help break down and remove the material that is causing you to make stones. You may need surgery if the stone is too large to pass, the stone is growing, or the stone is blocking your urine flow.
Kidney stones are painful, but you can usually pass them without causing permanent harm. However, kidney stones often come back, so you and your doctor will need to work on finding the cause of your stone. Lastly, delaying treatment can lead to serious complications, so if you think that you have kidney stones see your doctor right away.
Review Date: 2/19/2016
Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.