Causes of Kidney Stones, Symptoms and Emergency Room Treatment
Each year, more than half a million people go to emergency rooms for kidney stone problems. It is estimated that one in ten people will have a kidney stone at some time in their lives. Kidneys are vital organs found in the abdominal cavity. They filter waste excreted from the blood and produce urine. Urine contains minerals and salts. If these minerals and salts aggregate in the kidneys, they can form masses called “kidney stones.”
Kidney stone diseases can range in size from just a few millimeters across to several centimeters in diameter. It is possible to have kidney stones without knowing it. They are only detected when they block the flow of urine through the ureter. Kidney stones in the ureter can be extremely painful.
What is a kidney stone?
A kidney stone is a hard object that is made from chemicals in the urine. There are four types of kidney stones: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. A kidney stone may be treated with shockwave lithotripsy, uteroscopy, percutaneous nephrolithomy or nephrolithotripsy. Common symptoms include severe pain in lower back, blood in your urine, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills, or urine that smells bad or looks cloudy.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
If you have kidney stones in your urinary tract, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms:
- Acute pain in the groin, lower abdomen, and back
- Burning sensations or pain when passing urine
- Streaks or spots of blood in your urine
- Dizziness, fever and vomiting
Most times these symptoms pass quickly if the stones are small enough. Small kidney stones pass out of the body with your urine. If the stones are larger, the problem can become more serious with the added risk of infection.
Types of kidney stones
There are four main types of stones:
- Calcium oxalate: The most common type of kidney stone which is created when calcium combines with oxalate in the urine. Inadequate calcium and fluid intake, as well other conditions, may contribute to their formation.
- Uric acid: This is another common type of kidney stone. Foods such as organ meats and shellfish have high concentrations of a natural chemical compound known as purines. High purine intake leads to a higher production of monosodium urate, which, under the right conditions, may form stones in the kidneys. The formation of these types of stones tends to run in families.
- Struvite: These stones are less common and are caused by infections in the upper urinary tract.
- Cystine: These stones are rare and tend to run in families.
How Do I Know If I Have Kidney Stones?
The sudden onset of extreme pain in the abdomen or the lower back, or pain urinating, perhaps with blood in the urine, are the usual first symptoms of kidney stones. If you experience any of these symptoms, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. While these symptoms may indicate other disorders, such as an ectopic pregnancy, inflammation, or a urinary tract infection, they are all serious and need treatment.
How Are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
As pain indicates the problem, it’s rare to diagnose the disease before they have grown to a size which needs intervention. The pain is severe and most patients go to the emergency room. CT scans, ultrasound, X-rays and analysis of the urine are all used to find kidney stones. Sometimes, the doctor may take blood to test for minerals and salts.
How Are Kidney Stones Treated?
The treatment prescribed for kidney stones will depend on their size and how much pain you feel. If the stones are small, your doctor may recommend taking painkillers and waiting to see if they will pass out without intervention. You should drink plenty of water, up to ten glasses a day, to help flush them through your system.
If your kidney stones are too large to pass through the ureter, a range of medical treatments are possible. Your doctor may prescribe oral medication to soften the ureter wall and allow the stones to pass more easily. If the treatment is successful, the doctor may offer other medicine to stop kidney stones reforming.
Another possibility is shock wave therapy, which uses focused shocks of ultrasound to break up the stones. This procedure is non-invasive, as the waves pass through the body and only damage the kidney stones. But you might feel discomfort in the first few days after the treatment.
If your kidney stones have progressed to the bladder, you may need an operation called an ureteroscopy. In an ureteroscopy, the doctor inserts a tube into the urinary tract. At the end of the tube a tiny camera and a light help the doctor locate the stones. Tiny instruments extend from the tube and the doctor uses them to crush up the stones, sucking the fragments out through the tube.
In the most severe cases involving large stones, it may be necessary to remove them surgically. You will have a general anesthetic. The surgeon will cut open the lower abdomen and remove the stones before suturing the wound. You can return home after a short recuperation in hospital.
What Can You Do to Avoid Kidney Stones?
Dehydration can cause kidney stones, so drinking plenty of water helps prevent them forming. Cutting down on salt, chocolate, and high-protein foods also helps lower the risk. Overweight people are more likely to develop the disease, so regular exercise and a healthy diet is a good idea.
Keeping yourself hydrated so that your urine is always clear, is the best way to guard against the onset of kidney stone diseases. The condition can be extremely painful and if left unchecked can lead to more serious problems. If you suspect you may have the disease, always seek medical advice at the earliest opportunity and emergency room physicians could be an option.
When to Seek Emergency Room Treatment for Kidney Stones
The treatment for kidney stones is similar in children and adults. You may be asked to drink a lot of water. Doctors try to let the stone pass without surgery. You may also get medication to help make your urine less acid. But if it is too large, or if it blocks the flow of urine, or if there is a sign of infection, it is removed with surgery.
If you suspect kidney stones, visit us at ER of Texas Emergency Center. Our ER doctors are board-certified and available 24 hours a day. We accept walk-ins – No appointment is needed.