The human body is an amazing “machine” with an amazing “filter” organ, the kidneys. Unused metabolites will be transported through the blood stream and filtered by the kidneys, then excreted in the urine. When there is an imbalance of water, salt and mineral, these substances get stuck in the filter and accumulate becoming stones. They can be as small as grains of sand or as large as golf balls. Doctors diagnose these as urinary tract stones or urolithiasis. The urinary tract is the body’s system that makes urine. It is made up of the kidneys, the ureter (the passage connecting the kidneys to the bladder), the bladder, and the urethra (the passage that leads from the bladder out of the body).
When the stones start to irritate the urinary tract organs or if it gets stuck somewhere between the kidneys and the urethra, it will cause symptoms. The common complain is pain, which usually sudden and severe coming in waves or known as colic pain, located at the back, side, stomach, groin, or genitals. It can also be associated with bloody urine and signs of urinary tract infection, ie. burning sensation upon urination, feeling an urge to urinate frequently but usually passing only small quantities of urine, dribbling, foul-smelling urine, and cloudy urine.
Stones form when there is an imbalance of the components in the urine, ie : fluid, minerals and acidity.
Most kidney stones contain crystals of more than one type. Some types of kidney stones are:
- Calcium stones. Most kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. High oxalate levels can be found in some fruits and vegetables, as well as in nuts and chocolate. Your liver also produces oxalate. Dietary factors, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and several different metabolic disorders can increase the concentration of calcium or oxalate in urine. Calcium stones may also occur in the form of calcium phosphate.
- Struvite stones. Struvite stones form in response to an infection, such as a urinary tract infection. Struvite stones can grow quickly and become quite large.
- Uric acid stones. Uric acid stones can form in people who are dehydrated, those who eat a high-protein diet and those with gout. Certain genetic factors and disorders of the blood-producing tissues also may predispose you to uric acid stones.
- Cystine stones. These stones represent only a small percentage of kidney stones. They form in people with a hereditary disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete excessive amounts of certain amino acids (cystinuria).
- Other stones. Other, rarer types of kidney stones can occur.
Exams and Tests
The first best thing to do when you have a colic attack from a urinary tract stone is take pain medicines. OTC pain medicines are readily available such as ibuprofen or aspirin, which are usually stronger then plain acetaminophen. The second thing to do is drink 8 – 10 glasses of water a day to help pass the stone.
If the pain doesn’t improve, you should consult your doctor. Other conditions where you should see your doctor is when there are symptoms of nausea and vomiting, fever and chills.
Sometimes the stone won’t pass and needs surgical intervention. An ESWL (extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy) device can help breaking large stones to smaller fragments or sometimes more invasive surgery.