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Kidney Stones: When to See a Urology Specialist

In this blog, you will learn everything you need to know about kidney stones, including what they are, how they form, and what you can do to prevent them. 

Kidney stones are a widespread occurrence, especially in people at midlife. Kidney stones can cause extreme flank or groin pain, nausea, and vomiting. A certified urologist can recommend the most appropriate treatment, but most kidney stones can be passed naturally during urination.

You’ve likely heard all about kidney stones and how excruciating they can be to pass. The best way to avoid experiencing kidney stone-related agony is to educate yourself and take the necessary steps to prevent them from occurring in the first place. Knowledge is power—in this case, it’s the power of kidney stone prevention. 

What Are Kidney Stones (and Ureteral Stones)?

Kidney stones (renal lithiasis)Man holding his back in pain due to kidney stones. and ureteral stones (kidney stones that have moved to the ureters) are common urological health occurrences. They are often due to diet, lifestyle, and family history. 

More than 1 million cases of kidney and ureteral stones are diagnosed in the U.S. every year, with about 10 percent of Americans suffering from stone disease at some point during their lifetime.

In the simplest of terms, a kidney stone is a hard object made from “crystal-forming” chemicals, minerals, and substances in urine. You can compare it to a piece of rock candy. 

When the system works well, urine should easily dissolve accumulated waste in your kidneys. 

However, kidney stones worsen when urine contains more waste than the fluid necessary to dilute and dissolve it. This is when crystals begin to form.

What Are Types of Kidney Stones (and Ureteral Stones)?

There are four main types of stones, each with different characteristics.

  • Calcium oxalate: The most common type of kidney stone, calcium stones are created when calcium combines with oxalate in the urine. The formation of calcium oxalate stones is often caused by inadequate calcium and fluid intake, along with a host of other conditions. 
  • Uric acid: natural chemical compounds known as purines are metabolized by the kidneys into uric acid crystals that can potentially form stones. Foods with high levels of purines include non-dairy animal proteins such as red meat, organ meats, and shellfish. Uric acid stones tend to run in the family. These are the only type of stone that can be dissolved with medication.
  • Struvite/infection: Less common than typical kidney stones, Struvite stones are caused by bacteria such as Proteus, Klebsiella, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus, and Serratia. These typically present with urinary tract infections and large staghorn stones. 
  • Cystine: The rarest and typically the largest of kidney stones, Cystine stones are often due to a genetic predisposition and tend to reoccur multiple times over a patient’s life. 

When Should You See a Urologist for Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones will often pass on their own. And though it can be painful, it is perhaps the most desired method recommended by physicians. 

However, if you find yourself doubled over in pain or unable to urinate, you should make an appointment for a complete medical examination of the problem.

Specifically, seek help from a urologist if you experience these symptoms:

  • Pain so intense you can hardly move
  • Bloody urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Inability to urinate

It’s important to see a urologist if you are experiencing these signs, as it can lead to serious complications if left untreated. If a kidney stone is untreated for over six weeks, it can cause kidney damage. 

Contact The Urology Center of Colorado’s Kidney Stone Hotline at (303) -762-7600 if you are experiencing the signs of kidney stones.

We’re here to help.

For appointments at any TUCC location, request an appointment online.