Kidney Stones: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

November 12, 2012

Kidney stones, also called renal calculi, are hard salt crystals that form in the urinary tract. Stones that remain in the kidneys often do not hurt or cause problems.

Kidney Stones: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

But kidney stones usually break apart and are flushed from the kidney into the urine. They eventually block the urinary tract, which can kill a person unless the stones are passed or removed surgically. Men are far more prone to developing kidney stones than women because their urethra is narrower than a woman’s. There are many types of kidney stones, depending on what they consist of. All are painful.

These include:

  • Struvite stones: consisting mostly of ammonia and magnesium and occur after kidney infections.

  • Calcium stones: Although called calcium stones, they also consist of oxalate or phosphate and are caused by excess calcium in the body.

  • Uric acid stones: caused by excess acid in the urine from a diet too high in meat.

  • Cystic stones: consist of the amino acid cystine, which usually is found in nerves and muscles. These are the rarest type because they are caused by faulty genes.

Causes and Risk Factors of Kidney Stones

Although the body is usually efficient at flushing out any excess chemical such as calcium, the body needs other factors called stone inhibitors to help crystals from forming into large chunks. For example, urinating infrequently or a lot less than a person is supposed to concentrates the urine, makes it thicker and makes flushing out excess minerals or chemicals difficult.


Zinc and magnesium are also stone inhibitors as they help prevent chemicals in the urine from sticking together. A diet deficient in zinc or magnesium may contribute to stone formation. For an unknown reason, Caucasians are more likely to develop renal calculi than those of African heritage. The Portuguese have the highest incidence of uric acid stones. Again, medical science does not know why. People with certain illnesses are also prone to developing kidney stones. These illnesses include:

  • Gout

  • Chronic urinary tract infections

  • Thyroid problems

  • Kidney illness or injury.


Common symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • Renal colic: an intense pain under the ribs, often on just one side of the body. The pain moves to the genitals as the stone or stones move.

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Blood in the urine

  • Urgent need to urinate and yet cannot produce urine

  • Intense shivering and sweating, indicating an infection inside of the urinary tract itself

  • Fever

  • Sand or gravel-like stones in the urine which are extremely painful to pass.


Anyone suffering from the symptoms of kidney stones needs urgent medical attention. Since these symptoms are also the same as other medical illnesses, a medical professional needs to make a diagnosis before effective treatment can begin. Patients will undergo blood tests, urinalysis and, if necessary, X-rays.

Diagnosis can be speeded up if a passed stone is brought to the doctor. This can determine what type of kidney stone it is. Different types get different treatments.

Uric acid stones and cystic stones can often be treated with medications and strong painkillers. Stones lodged in the urethra need to be removed by an endoscope or ureteroscope. Tiny stones under 2cm wide can be broken apart with ultrasound waves using a device called an extracorporeal shock wave device.


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