Kidney stones are solid accumulation of chemical deposits that are formed inside the urinary tract. The medical term for these stones is renal calculi.
They are hard, and could be as small as a microscopic speck or larger than a marble.
When a stone is very small it can easily pass through the ureter (narrow tube which connects the kidney to the bladder), and into the urine.
These tiny stones usually exit the body, unnoticed, during urination. Large stones, however, can create serious problems. They can remain in the kidneys or travel into the ureters, where they can become trapped.
Approximately 1 in every 10 persons will develop a kidney stone in their lifetime. They are more common in Caucasian males, over the age of 30 years. Persons who previously had renal calculi are at greater risk of recurrence. Also, persons with relatives who have or had this condition are at risk of being affected by it.
Persons who are prone to this condition should be very careful of their diet. Adequate amounts of water and good nutrition are integral to any prevention strategy or program.
Some preliminary studies suggest that there could be a possible link between diabetes and renal calculi. While it is unlikely that diabetes is the only factor driving the increasing incidences of renal calculi, it could be a significant risk factor. At this point, however, the results of those studies are inconclusive.
One of the key functions of the kidney is to filter the blood and remove waste chemicals from the body, through the urine.
These waste products such as uric acid, phosphates, and calcium oxalate are usually kept in a liquid form by natural protective chemical compounds.
Occasionally, these protective compounds are unable to maintain the waste substances in a soluble form. When this happens, these substances begin to crystallize and clump together... forming what is known as renal calculi.
Tiny stones, sometimes called "silent stones", may never cause any problems. In fact, most people with these stones never know or suspect that they have them. They usually pass out in the urine without any problems.
Large stones are quite different and can cause problems when they restrict the normal flow of urine. Apart from the severe pains they cause, they can block the flow of urine down the ureters and create pressure on the kidneys.
Eventually, the pressure caused by backed-up urine can cause the kidney to become swollen. Over an extended period of time, the kidney may become damaged and infection may develop.
If a stone is lodged further down the ureter, the backed up urine may also cause the ureter to become swollen. The presence of a stone in the ureter may cause spasms, which result in severe pain. Any major blockage of the urinary system, especially the ureter, must be treated urgently. If the stone is not dislodged on its own then surgery may be required or doctors may recommend the use of a ureteric stent to allow the urine to drain into the bladder.
Diagnosing renal calculi is based on, among other things, a patient's history of very severe pain in the back, sides, or groin area. Severe pain is one of the first symptoms of kidney stone. To confirm the presence of renal calculi a physician will usually perform a urine test and an X-ray.
X-ray of the kidneys, ureters, and bladder may or may not reveal the presence of renal calculi. A series of x-rays taken after injecting iodine dye into a vein is usually a more reliable way of seeing a kidney stone. This procedure is known as intravenous pyelogram (IVP). The dye is like a highlighter which lights up the urinary system as it travels along. If a stone causes obstruction, the dye will be stopped or will only be able to trickle slowly past the stone.
Once a patient has passed a stone it is usually analyzed to determine the type of stone (chemical composition). It is important to know the type of stone that affected a patient, as this helps to diagnose the cause and formulate an effective treatment and prevention strategy.
The increasing incidences of renal calculi are becoming a common medical problem in many Western societies. This is largely the result of poor dietary and lifestyle habits. If you possess any of the risk factors for kidney stones, it is wise to start paying attention to your dietary habits.
If you have been diagnosed with of suspect that you may have a kidney stone, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. If left untreated for an extended period, kidney stones could cause infections and kidney damage. A competent medical practitioner will be able to properly diagnose your condition and prescribe an appropriate course of treatment.
If you have ever had to endure the excruciating pains caused by kidney stones, and you don't mind sharing your experience, please take a few moments to tell us your story.
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