Kidney stones can be incredibly painful, though they ultimately do not lead to permanent damage. Solid deposits form inside the kidneys, composed of acid and mineral salts, when substances typically found in urine become concentrated. Varying in size, kidney stones may either pass on their own or get stuck along the urinary tract, resulting in severe pain and/or bleeding. They may form for a number of reasons, though their cause is not always definitive. Having a higher quantity of crystal-forming substances like oxalate, calcium, and uric acid than your urine can dissolve will lead to kidney stones. Simultaneously, they may be caused by a lack of these substances, which would also allow kidney stones to form more easily.
The most common types of kidney stones are calcium stones, generally seen as calcium oxalate. As oxalate is found in high doses in certain foods, diet can contribute to a person’s risk. The liver also produces oxalate, and intestinal bypass surgery, as well as some metabolic disorders have been known to increase the density of calcium or oxalate in urine. Calcium phosphate stones are also possible to acquire from calcium build up in the urine. Struvite stones usually form after an infection, like a urinary tract infection, and can grow rapidly and become very painful. Uric acid stones occur in people who don’t drink enough or lose too much fluid, have gout, or eat a large amount of protein. Those who have a genetic disorder causing the kidneys to excrete too much of the amino acid cystinuria form cystine stones.
Your risk of kidney stones can increase if people in your family, or yourself, have had them before, if you are over 40, and do not drink enough water. Certain diets can also lead to a higher kidney stone risk, such as high amounts of protein, sugar, and sodium, notably sodium. The amount of calcium your kidneys must filter is increased when people consume more sodium than necessary. Obesity, digestive diseases, gastric bypass surgery, and certain medications and diseases can also increase your risk. People who have renal tubular acidosis, hyperparathyroidism, and cystinuria are much more likely to get kidney stones than others.
Symptoms of kidney stones can vary widely depending on the type of stone and its size. Most symptoms are not experienced until the stone moves around within the kidney or passes into the ureter, the tube linking the kidney to the bladder. When this occurs, the following symptoms are typical of a kidney stone:
- Painful urination
- Discolored urine (pink, brown, or red)
- Pain spreading to the lower abdomen and groin
- Pain coming in waves of intensity
- Feeling the need to urinate frequently
- Urinating more often than normal
- Severe pain in the back and side, below the ribs
- Fever and chills in case of an infection
- Nausea and vomiting
Treatment for Kidney Stones
Based on the stone, treatment may be quite simple and minimally painful, or more serious and invasive. Always talk to your doctor to discuss the best method of treatment, as you may be able to pass a small stone on your own. Small stones can be passed by drinking lots of water to flush your urinary system, taking anti-inflammatory pain relievers, or taking an alpha blocker prescribed to relax the muscles in the ureter and pass the stone less painfully.
More severe stones may be too large to pass on their own or cause bleeding, thus requiring more serious measures. These types of stones can cause kidney damage or recurring urinary tract infections, and must be removed by some sort of invasive treatment. Doctors may use sound waves to break up the stone so it can pass on its own in smaller pieces, use a ureteroscope to take out a smaller stone, or surgically remove a large stone in the kidney. Surgery on an overactive parathyroid gland may also be performed if calcium stones form as a result of producing too much parathyroid hormone, and increasing calcium levels.
How Health Insurance Can Help
When you have a kidney stone, seeing your doctor to determine the gravity of the problem is essential. As soon as you feel pain so severe you cannot sit still or find a comfortable position, feel pain along with nausea, vomiting, fever and chills, have blood in your urine, or have difficulty urinating, call your doctor. They can determine whether or not you have a kidney stone by running blood, urine, and imaging tests to show kidney health, see if your urine is laden with too many or too few stone-forming minerals, and reveal stone in the kidney. In order to assess the kind of stones you have and prevent future risks, you may also be asked to urinate through a strainer to catch the stones.
Whether you end up needing a medication or even a surgical procedure, health insurance will help make the costs of diagnosis, treatment, and prevention more manageable. As diagnostic tests, office visits, and surgeries can get expensive without any coverage, and your access to providers isn’t nearly as effective, a health plan is a great tool in the event that you get a kidney stone. When you’re in pain, you need a doctor to rely on without worrying about the price, which your plan’s network can connect you to instantly.
1. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Kidney Stones in Adults.
2. Mayo Clinic. Kidney Stones.