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Kidney Stone Symptoms & When You Should Get Help

Kidney Stones Q & A

What causes kidney stones?

Kidney stones form when your body doesn’t get enough water, causing calcium and other minerals in your urine to harden into pebble-like objects. There’s no one single cause of kidney stones, but there are several factors that can contribute to a water-to-mineral imbalance.


When you’re properly hydrated, urination expels the minerals in your urine from your body. If you don’t drink enough water or you sweat excessively, your body has a harder time diluting the minerals and they may clump together into kidney stones.


If you have a diet that’s high in salt, sugar, and animal proteins, you’re at a greater risk of developing kidney stones.


Because genetics can play a significant role in the development of kidney stones, it’s especially important for you to stay hydrated and pay close attention to what you’re eating if a parent or sibling has had kidney stones, or if you’ve gotten them before.

How do I know if a kidney stone requires medical attention?

Small kidney stones can cause some discomfort but tend not to require a doctor’s visit. It’s often possible to pass smaller stones by drinking a lot of water, and the pain is usually manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers.

Large kidney stones, on the other hand, don’t pass on their own and usually require medical attention. Symptoms of large kidney stones include:

  • Nausea

  • Difficulty urinating

  • Blood in your urine

  • Pain in your abdomen or lower back

  • Difficulty finding a comfortable position to sit, stand, or lie down

Your doctor may use a blood, urine, or imaging test to determine if your symptoms are the result of a kidney stone.


What is lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy is a procedure to break up kidney stones, either to remove them or to leave them in small enough pieces that you can pass them naturally.

If you have a medium-sized stone, you may be a candidate for Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL), a noninvasive treatment that uses high-energy shock waves to break up the stone.

If you have a larger stone, or if there are still large fragments after ESWL, your doctor may recommend laser lithotripsy. In laser lithotripsy, your doctor passes a tube into the urinary tract and breaks up the stone with a laser. The laser either turns your kidney stone into dust, which you’ll be able to pass on your own or into small fragments your doctor can remove during the procedure.


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