Health Break | Published January 6, 2014 | Written by Christopher Yingling, MD, urology, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Kidney stones a common health problem

You’ve probably had a friend or relative who has had kidney stones, or maybe you’ve even had them yourself. The truth is, kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract, affecting one in 11 people in the United States alone.

A kidney stone is a solid mass that is formed in the kidney, when abnormal substances in the urine become highly concentrated. Kidney stones can either stay in the kidney or travel down in the urinary tract. Varying in size, kidney stones can pass on their own with little or no pain, or they may cause severe pain and bleeding if they become stuck along the urinary tract, blocking the flow of urine.

Kidney stones are typically caused by lack of water, and can appear golf-ball-sized and brown, small and smooth, or jagged and yellow.

While anyone can get kidney stones, they are more likely to affect men than women, and are more common in those who are overweight or obese. Additionally, there are certain individuals who are at a higher risk for stones including those who have a family history of kidney stones.

In addition, those with certain medical conditions such as gout, high calcium in the urine, inflammatory bowel disease, and even those taking certain medications may be at an increased risk for developing kidney stones.

Those with kidney stones may experience pain with urination, blood in the urine, feel a sharp pain in the lower back or abdomen, and may experience nausea or vomiting from the pain. The pain can last either a short time or for several days.

Healthcare providers can diagnose kidney stones by performing a physical examination and taking a medical history. Patients may also need to provide urine or blood samples to confirm kidney stones.

While small stones usually pass through the urinary tract with little to no treatment, larger stones may require treatment by a family physician or urologist.

Treatment options for larger kidney stones include the following:

  • Shock wave lithotripsy: shock waves pass through a person’s body to break the kidney stones into smaller pieces that can be more easily passed. Requires anesthesia, but performed in an outpatient setting. Patient usually goes home the same day.
  • Ureteroscopy: a thin, telescopic instrument is inserted into the urinary tract to retrieve or break up the stone. Requires anesthesia, but patient usually goes home the same day.
  • Nephrolithotomy: a thin instrument is inserted through an incision in the back is used to locate and remove the stone. Requires anesthesia and may require several days in the hospital.

Depending upon the type of stones a patient has, there are potential ways to help prevent future stones from recurring. In addition to getting enough fluids, doctors may recommend reducing sodium, limiting animal protein, and getting enough calcium as ways to help prevent future kidney stones. There are also certain medications that a healthcare provider may prescribe to prevent stones.

It’s important to note that those who have had kidney stones in the past are at increased risk for getting them again. If you have had kidney stones or have a family history of kidney stones and want more information, speak with your healthcare provider.