Kidney stones are a common problem many people experience at some point in their lives. But what are they, and do they hurt? Here’s everything you need to know about kidney stones, including their symptoms, what causes them and how they’re diagnosed and treated.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are small, hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form in your kidneys. They can develop in either kidney or both and affect around one in 10 people. They can also range in size, from a tiny crystal or grain of sand to a big pebble or golf ball.
Unsurprisingly, large kidney stones can cause severe pain when they pass through your urinary tract.
What Causes Them?
The kidneys are the body’s filtration system. One of their main roles is to get rid of waste and toxins. During this process, waste occasionally forms into crystals, which can build up over time into a hard lump.
Several factors increase your risk of kidney stones, including not drinking enough water or eating a diet high in protein and salt. Taking certain medication or having a medical condition can also make you more likely to develop kidney stones, especially if it causes you to have a high concentration of the chemicals in your body that form kidney stones.
If you have a family history of kidney stones, you’re also more likely to have them yourself.
Do Kidney Stones Hurt?
Most of the time, kidney stones are so small that they pass easily through your urinary tract and are expelled from the body in your urine. As this doesn’t cause any pain, you won’t even know you’re passing kidney stones.
Sometimes, though, a buildup of minerals and salts can form even larger kidney stones that rub against the walls of your urinary system. When this happens, it can cause extreme pain, and it may be so severe that you need to go to the hospital.
If you think you may have a kidney stone, it’s vital to see a doctor — either at your local surgery or a private urology clinic — as soon as possible so they can diagnose and treat the problem.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
The most common symptom of kidney stones is severe stomach or groin pain, which is the stone trying to pass through your system.
Other symptoms include blood in your urine, feeling or being sick and having a high temperature.
The symptoms of kidney stones are similar to those of a urinary tract infection (UTI). If you’re experiencing these symptoms, there’s likely an innocent explanation, but in rare cases, they can be the early signs of bladder cancer, which makes it vital to visit a doctor.
Do Kidney Stones Go Away on Their Own?
In some cases, smaller stones will pass through your system on their own. Most of the time, kidney stones are so small that you won’t even realise you have them. But if kidney stones are causing you pain or you’re experiencing other symptoms, such as nausea, it’s time to visit a doctor.
How Are Kidney Stones Treated?
Once you’ve been diagnosed with kidney stones, your doctor will recommend the right treatment for you. If you have small stones, you may still be in pain until you pass them, which can take a couple of days. You should drink up to three litres a day until the stones pass, and you can also take anti-sickness medication and ibuprofen for the pain.
If your stones are larger and can’t pass through the urinary tract on their own, you may need surgery.
There are several procedures for removing large kidney stones. These include:
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
This is the most common type of surgery for removing kidney stones. ESWL uses sound waves to break up the stone into smaller pieces, which you can pass in your urine.
This is a minimally invasive surgery in which a long, thin tube called a ureteroscope is inserted into the ureter, which connects your bladder and kidney. The surgeon may gently remove the stone or break it up into smaller pieces so you can pass it in your urine.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL)
This surgery is used to remove large stones that are blocking the urinary tract. The surgeon will make a small incision in your back and insert a thin telescopic tube called a nephroscope into your kidney. They will then pull out the stone or break it into smaller pieces to be passed out of your body.
What Happens If You Don’t Treat Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones can cause significant pain, but there are other reasons you should get treatment if you experience kidney stone symptoms. Left untreated, they can lead to infections or stop the kidney from working properly.
Kidney stones are a common problem and can often be treated quickly. If you think you may have a kidney stone, you shouldn’t wait to see a doctor. With the right treatment, you can stop the pain from getting worse and avoid the complications that can occur if your kidney stones are not removed.