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Ureteral & Kidney Stones

Kidney stones (renal lithiasis) and ureteral stones (kidney stones that have moved to the ureters) are common occurrences in urological health. They are often due to diet, lifestyle changes, and even 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. 

What are Kidney and Ureteral Stones?

Both kidney and ureteral stones are rock-like masses that occur within the urinary tract, formed by the crystallization of various elements excreted in the urine. 

  • Kidney Stones form within the collecting duct of the kidneys, where urine is produced. When the stones block urine flow, patients can often suffer extreme pain. 
  • Ureteral Stones occur when kidney stones travel to the ureters—the tubes that connect the kidneys to your bladder. Ureteral stones are more likely to cause pain and discomfort. 

Diagnosis

Kidney Stones

  • A kidney stone diagnosis begins with discussing your medical history and lifestyle. Next, an array of tests is ordered, which can include:
  • Imagining tests such as an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound help your doctor observe the size, shape, location, and quantity of kidney stones.
  • A blood test can reveal how well your kidneys function, check for infection and detect biochemical problems that could lead to kidney stones.
  • A urine test finds signs of infection and determines if you are at immediate risk of experiencing kidney stones.

Ureteral Stones

  • Diagnosed by your doctor, ureteral stones are detected via a physical examination and a discussion about your medical history and lifestyle. The diagnosis follows the same path as kidney stones, with your doctor ordering tests, including imaging, blood, or urine tests.

Signs & Symptoms

Kidney Stones & Ureteral Stones

Kidney stones and ureteral stones share many of the same signs and symptoms. While you can have a stone in your kidney for years and not feel any pain, once it moves or becomes enlarged, you may begin to experience symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Lower back or side pain; often starts as a dull ache but can become more sharp and severe if left untreated. 
  • Nausea or vomiting along with the previously mentioned pain.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Pain when urinating.
  • The feeling of having to urinate but not being able to. 
  • The need to urinate more often.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Foul-smelling urine.
  • Cloudy urine.

Types of Kidney Stones

While most people think there’s only one type of kidney stone, there are actually 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 and a host of other conditions.

     

  • Struvite/infection: Less common than typical kidney stones, Struvite stones are caused by infections in the upper urinary tract.
 
  • Uric Acid: Foods with high concentrations of a natural chemical compound known as purines could lead to a higher production of monosodium urate, which has the potential to form stones in the kidneys. Foods with high levels of purine include organ meats and shellfish. Uric acid stones tend to run in the family.

     

  • Crystine: 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. 

Treatment for Ureteral & Kidney Stones

Though kidney and ureteral stones are painful, causing patients to seek treatment quickly, often, it takes a physical examination and a combination of tests to confirm the presence of stones in your system. 

Patients with small stones and few symptoms may be observed to see if they can pass the stones on their own during urination. If that proves too painful or the condition makes urination impossible, TUCC offers a variety of cutting-edge and comforting treatments. These treatments include:

Ureteroscopy with Laser Lithotripsy

An outpatient surgical procedure, Ureteroscopy with Laser Lithotripsy, is performed by a surgeon. The surgeon reaches the stone with various scopes, extracting it using a special basket. Alternatively, the stone can be broken into smaller pieces using a laser beam. The tiny pieces of the stone that remain in the ureters or kidney are then spontaneously passed. This treatment is best for stones located in the lower part of the ureter.

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)

In this outpatient surgical procedure, shockwaves are transmitted through the body to break up kidney stones and allow the fragments to drain through the urinary system on their own. This treatment is best for stones located in the kidneys or upper ureters. 

Both Ureteroscopy with Laser Lithotripsy and Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) are performed in the Urology Surgery Center of Colorado (USCC) located at TUCC in Denver. Kidney stone treatment is provided by our surgeons, offering the most technologically advanced treatment in our convenient, comfortable ambulatory surgery center.

Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy

An inpatient procedure that requires the patient to be admitted to the hospital, a Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy begins with placing a small tube or wire through the back and into the kidney. The tube is enlarged in the operating room, and the stones are broken up by an ultrasound or laser surgery. Following the procedure, the tube is removed within two days, and the patient is sent home with a ureteral stent in place. This form of treatment is usually best for kidney stones on the larger side, typically bigger than 2 cm in size.

Medical Therapy

For kidney stones composed of uric acid—around 10 percent of kidney stones—medications that decrease the acidity of urine can dissolve the stones.

Ureteral Stents 

In this procedure, tubes are placed in the ureters from the kidney to the bladder, allowing urine to drain and relieve the obstruction. The stents are often inserted following kidney stone surgery to prevent potential swelling following a ureteroscopy or blockage from kidney stone fragments following ESWL. Once the swelling has decreased, and stone fragments have been removed, the stents are removed in an office procedure.

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

While some patients may be genetically predisposed to suffering from kidney stones, most people can take steps to reduce the risk. The majority of these actions are lifestyle choices, though, at times, medical intervention can be utilized. Here are some ways to prevent kidney stones:

  • Drink plenty of water. It is recommended that you drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water every day. Making sure you’re adequately hydrated ensures you urinate more often, which helps your system flush out any buildup of the substances that cause kidney stones. And if you tend to sweat more than usual, drink even more water, as sweating leads to less urine production. 
  • Limit your salt intake: Sodium has been shown to increase the likelihood of kidney stones in some people. Therefore, a diet that’s high in salt increases your risk of kidney stones. Consider connecting with a nutritionist or dietitian for help crafting a menu that’s light on salt and easy on your kidneys.
  • Eat and drink calcium and oxalate-rich foods. Oxalate and calcium bind to one another in the stomach and intestines before the kidneys begin processing, making them less likely to form kidney stones.
  • Consider prescriptions. Some medications could help prevent kidney stones. Talk to your doctor as the type of medication will depend on the type of kidney stone. 

TUCC Ureteral & Kidney Stones Doctors

Kidney and Ureteral Stones FAQs

A kidney stone is a hard, rock-like object made from chemicals in the urine. After forming, kidney stones may travel down the urinary tract into the ureter. Tiny stones could travel through the body unnoticed, but larger stones will back-up urine in the kidney, ureter, the bladder, causing pain.

Many causes could lead to a kidney stone, including improper hydration, not enough (or too much) exercise, too much sodium, infections, or family history.

Extremely common. More than 1 million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone-related problems and pain every year. It’s believed that one in 10 people will experience a kidney stone at some point in their lives.

Your doctor will diagnose a kidney or ureteral stone through a physical examination, a discussion of your medical and family history, and imaging tests. 

A variety of treatments are often used, and sometimes your doctor will ask you to drink a lot of water and attempt to pass the stone on your own. However, if the stone is too large, if it blocks the flow of urine, or if you have an infection, it can be removed with various surgical procedures.