Kidney stones are a common condition. An estimated 1 in 10 people will experience a stone at least once in their lifetime, according to the National Kidney Foundation. While kidney stones tend to be more common in men, they are occurring more frequently in women every year.
It’s possible to pass a kidney stone painlessly while urinating. But depending on the size, type and location of the stone, you may need treatment — or even surgery — to remove it.
At the Henry Ford Vattikuti Urology Institute, our team has the expertise to diagnose and treat all types of kidney stones. We work to uncover what’s causing your stones — and help you understand how to prevent new ones from forming.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are hard masses that form inside the kidney. They develop when certain minerals and salts build up in the urine and crystalize into a stone. There are several types of kidney stones, each resulting from different materials in the urine. The most common types include:
- Calcium oxalate stones form when calcium and oxalate combine in the urine.
- Calcium phosphate stones form when calcium and phosphate combine in the urine.
- Uric acid stones result from high intake of foods with animal proteins (such as red meat, chicken, and shellfish) that are high in a chemical compound called purine. When you consume high levels of purine, your body produces more uric acid, which can form stones.
- Struvite stones are less common and usually occur with urinary tract infections.
- Cystine stones are rare and are usually genetic.
Kidney stone symptoms
Kidney stones range in size. They can be as small as a grain of sand up to the size of a chickpea. In rare cases, they can grow as large as a golf ball.
A kidney stone may stay in the kidney or it may travel through the urinary tract. While small stones can pass without you even noticing, larger ones may cause irritation, pain and even block urine from passing.
If a stone grows large enough, it may get stuck somewhere along the urinary tract and require treatment .
It’s possible to have a kidney stone for years without symptoms. But if the stone grows larger or tries to pass through your system, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Blood in your urine (Hematuria)
- Pain while urinating
- Sharp pain in your lower back, side or lower abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
Kidney stone causes
There are several reasons why kidney stones form. Some of the most common causes of kidney stones include:
- Not drinking enough water
- Eating animal proteins (these foods are high in purines, a chemical compound found in red meat and shellfish)
- Having a diet that is high in sodium
- Consuming too much sugar
- Having a family history of kidney stones
- Taking certain medications (such as some antacids)
- Having other medical conditions (such as gout, diabetes and obesity)
To connect with a urology specialist, call us at (800) 436-7936 or request an appointment.
What is a kidney stone?
A kidney stone often resembles a small yellow or brown pebble with rough or smooth edges. It forms in the kidney, then moves through the urinary tract and out of the body in the urine. Sometimes stones move without causing pain. Other times it can be extremely painful.
What are common symptoms?
- Blood in the urine.
- Pain while urinating.
- Sharp pain in your lower back or lower abdomen.
- Nausea or vomiting.
How is a kidney stone diagnosed and treated?
Your doctor will perform urine and blood tests and an imaging study like an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan to diagnose your kidney stone. Depending on the size of the stone and whether the stone is causing pain or an obstruction, you may need to see a urologist to treat you. Treatment options include:
- Shock wave lithotripsy- (SWL): The most common procedure. From outside the body, your doctor will aim shock waves at the stone to break it apart into tiny pieces that are small enough to pass through urine.
- Ureteroscopy- (URS): Small telescopes are threaded through the bladder and into the ureter to look at the stones and then either remove them immediately or use a laser to break them apart. The fragments are often collected in a basket for analysis.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy- (PNL): A needle is inserted into the kidney, then space is made for a special instrument called a nephroscope. The stone is then removed or broken up. Henry Ford was one of the first centers to use this technology, now among the gold standards for treatment.
- Robotic-assisted pyelolithotomy: While it’s not usually needed, we use a robotic system during a minimally invasive surgery to remove larger stones. Our team has extensive robotic-assisted experience.
- Open surgery: Traditional, open surgery is rarely needed but is occasionally the best approach.
- Stents: Sometimes we need to temporarily place a stent (a hollow tube) in the ureter.
To reduce your risk for having another stone, we’ll recommend changes in your diet and fluids. Increasing your urine volume by drinking more fluids is one of the best ways to help prevent most types of stones.
How can I prevent kidney stones from returning?
If you develop another stone or are at risk for doing so, we offer a special metabolic evaluation, in addition to compositional analysis of stones we remove, to prevent the problem from happening again. The evaluation may involve a blood test or urine sample.