What are they?
Kidney stones are solid, stone-like lumps formed in the kidneys from waste products in urine. These stones can stay for a long time or get passed out in urine without being noticed. However, really large and rough stones can bruise the tubes carrying urine from the kidneys to the bladder (the ureters) or even get stuck, causing a lot of pain.
Kidney stones are of several different types, and the doctor will advise you on how to prevent further stone formation based on these types.
What are the symptoms and signs?
Pain is the most important complaint people with kidney stones have. The pain can be dull in the loin, or excruciatingly sharp and crampy. It usually comes on suddenly and might travel down to the groin.
They may need to urinate more often or feel a burning sensation while at it. It is common to find blood in the urine; this isn’t usually visible but shows up on tests.
Imaging tests like CT scan usually show the size and location of stones.
What treatments work?
Very small stones often pass out of the body without any treatment. This can however take a while, and can be facilitated by drinking plenty of water to increase the flow of urine.
The doctor may also prescribe strong painkillers and anti-emetics for the pain and vomiting respectively, as well as antibiotics in the case of a urinary tract infection.
There are drugs that can help relax the ureters if a stone is stuck there. The doctor may also prescribe these.
Larger stones and those that don’t pass out of the body will have to be removed manually. One effective treatment is called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). Here, shock waves are used to break up stones into small pieces that can pass out of the body.
Sometimes people need a minor procedure or operation if other treatments haven’t worked or if their stone is particularly large or in an awkward place. In one of such procedures called a percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL), the doctor makes a small cut in the back to pass a needle and a very thin tube into the kidney to remove the stone.
If a stone is blocking the flow of urine, the urine may first have to be drained from the kidney before the blockage is removed.
What will happen to me?
Treatments for kidney stones usually work well, but they are likely to occur again. One of the most important ways of preventing this is to drink plenty of water (more than 2 litres daily). Others include:
• Eating a healthy diet, with plenty of fruit, vegetables, fibre, and calcium (but not calcium supplements)
• Avoiding lots of salt and meat
There are other specific kinds of foods to avoid for different kinds of kidney stones. The doctor should talk about these in details based on the kind of stone involved in the index case. There are also some prescription drugs that may help prevent stone formation.