Kidney stones are a very painful, and very common, urologic disorder, affecting 600,000 patients per year. The stones are a solid mass that develops from crystals that separate from urine and build up on the inner surfaces of the kidney. Urine usually contains chemicals that prevent stones from forming, but sometimes, they don't work. If the stones are tiny enough, they will travel through the body with urine and pass undetected. Even larger ones usually pass without any medical assistance, but there are various techniques to treat those that cannot be eliminated without help.
In many cases, a kidney stone, also called a renal calculus, contains chemicals such as calcium, which combines with other chemicals such as phosphate or oxalate. These chemicals come from a person's dietary intake and are required to maintain healthy muscles and bones. A rarer form is called a struvite; this is caused by an infection in the urinary tract. The medical term used to describe stones that appear in the urinary tract is urolithiasis.
Medical experts are not sure of exactly why kidney stones appear. Although ingestion of certain foods contributes to their development, it is not believed that any specific food is directly to blame. People who have a family history of this problem may be more likely to develop them as well. There is also a rare hereditary disease called renal tubular acidosis, and people with this disease are much more likely to develop the stones.
The first sign that a person has developed a stone in a kidney will be extreme pain when it blocks the flow of urine. He will feel an intense cramping or sharp pain in the lower back, side, or groin area. The individual may also suffer from vomiting and nausea. He may feel the need to urinate more often and may feel a burning sensation when he does.
As the stone or stones move or grow larger, blood may appear in the urine. If the person suffers from chills and fever along with the aforementioned symptoms, this is a sign of an infection and a medical professional should be called. He or she will take an X-ray or sonogram, and possibly perform a computed tomography (CT) scan. These tests will help the healthcare professional see an image of the urinary system to make a proper diagnosis.
Drinking plenty of water can help kidney stones to pass through the body. A medical professional may also prescribe medications to prevent uric acid and calcium stones from forming. For more severe cases, extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy may be used, in which shock waves will be passed through the body to break up the stones into small particles that can be passed easily when urinating. The healthcare provider can advise the patient on future lifestyle changes that should prevent the stones from reappearing.