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All You Need To Know About Kidney Stones

Kidney stone disease ranks among the prevalent issues affecting the urinary system, and there has been a consistent rise in the number of individuals in the U.S. suffering with kidney stones over the past few years. In this blog post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about kidney stones: what they are, the symptoms, treatment, stages, and complications.

What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?

It’s essential to understand how to know if you have kidney stones. Common kidney stone symptoms include sharp, cramping pain in the back and side. 

This feeling often moves to the lower abdomen or groin as it progresses. It’s a pain that starts suddenly with a profound sharpness, coming and going in waves that can last minutes to hours. It can come and go as your body attempts to remove the stone by flushing it out in the urine. 

Other symptoms could include:

  • Nausea or vomiting 
  • 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

What Do Kidney Stones Feel Like?​

Kidney stones move around, causing a burning sensation once the stone reaches the joint between your ureter and bladder. man with back pain.

However, some people might confuse this feeling with a urinary tract infection (UTI), so it is essential to see your doctor at the onset of symptoms.

Do Kidney Stones Cause Stomach Pain?

While the pain can be felt around the stomach area, it is more associated with abdominal pain just below the ribcage, your side, and your lower back. 

As the stone moves from your kidney into your urinary tract, the pain might feel more like a radiating ache in the lower abdomen, pelvis, or groin.

What Are The First Signs of Kidney Stones?

Pain or pressure is typically the first sign of a kidney stone, according to the University of Chicago

This pain or pressure might initially be subtle and slowly build in intensity. But, of course, there are instances when the pain comes on suddenly with no slow build-up or early warning signs.

How Long Does it Take to Pass a Kidney Stone?

Passing a kidney stone can happen naturally. 

Kidney stones measuring 4 mm or less will pass on their own about 80 percent of the time, taking about a month. 

Kidney stones more than 4 mm are more likely to require treatment, but 60 percent of those stones pass naturally, taking an average of 45 days.

Are kidney stones dangerous?

Most kidney stones will pass with varying pain levels, perhaps some blood, but not much else. However, the kidney stone can become stuck in the ureter. If it stays there, there is potential for it to cause serious problems, even life-threatening complications. If a stone is stuck for longer than six weeks, this may start to cause kidney damage.

Can kidney stones cause a UTI?

The longer the kidney stone remains in the body, the more complications could develop. For example, if a kidney stone blocks the ureter long enough, it could increase the risk of a UTI or kidney infection. If you have fevers higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit along with flank pain, seek immediate medical attention.

Can a kidney stone kill you?

In all probability, a kidney stone will not kill you. However, if prolonged cases are left untreated, it could lead to other health complications that could prove life-threatening later in life. In other rare cases, the kidney stone could bring an infection. If the infection is left to fester, it could develop into a severe problem.

The Stages of a Kidney Stone

Stage 1

Stone formation: Most people won’t even know this stage is taking place. Once formed, bodily movement can cause the stone to detach from the inner wall of the kidney. This is when you’ll begin to sense its presence. Next, you will start to feel some discomfort and pain, with that pain progressing to severe pain. It hurts because the stone passes from the kidney into the ureter.

Stage 2

The stone enters the ureter, the tube connecting the kidneys to your bladder. Inside the ureter, there’s a diameter of 2-3 mm. Any kidney stones bigger than that will cause a throbbing pain as the stone moves through the urinary system. In addition, you may feel pain migrating from your back to your groin as the stone moves lower. Medications such as tamsulosin can help relax the muscle in the ureter to widen the diameter for stone passage.

Stage 3

After the journey through the ureter, the stone enters the bladder. Once the stone is in your bladder, it will no longer hurt to pass, and you will easily urinate it out. It is very rare to have a stone get stuck in your urethra. You may have been provided a strainer by the ER or urologist’s office to catch your stone. If you catch your stone, bring it to your urologist’s office for analysis.

How Can I Get Rid of Kidney Stones?

When kidney stones are small enough to pass on their own, though painful, your doctor will likely recommend that you allow them to pass naturally. 

However, if there is a concern for a urinary tract infection trapped behind the stone or your symptoms are uncontrolled, your physician might recommend treatment. Your urologist may also recommend treating asymptomatic larger stones in the kidney to prevent future stone episodes.

These treatments could include:

  • Ureteroscopy with Laser Lithotripsy: An outpatient procedure in which a surgeon reaches the stone with a scope and extracts it using a basket. The technique could also break the stone into smaller pieces using a laser beam.
  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL): Shockwaves are transmitted through the body to break up kidney stones in this outpatient procedure. After the stones are broken into smaller pieces, the fragments drain through the urinary system. 
  • Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: Reserved for larger stones, this inpatient procedure 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. The tube is removed at the end of the procedure or before discharge from the hospital after observation overnight,  and the patient is sent home with a ureteral stent. 
  • Medical Therapy: For kidney stones composed of uric acid—around 10 percent of kidney stones—medications that decrease the acidity of urine are used to dissolve the stones.
  • Ureteral Stents: 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.

Contact The Urology Center of Colorado’s Kidney Stone Hotline at 303-762-7600 if you are experiencing the signs of kidney stones or would like to discuss personalized preventative measures.

We’re here to help.

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