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Kidney Stones

Author: Annabel Chang, M.D.


Kidney stones are very common—about 1 in 10 adults will get them at some point, and both men and women are affected. What are kidney stones? They are collections of things such as calcium or other substances that can become crystals and get stuck in your kidneys. Most of the time they are made up of calcium, but they can also be made up of other things, such as struvite, uric acid, and cystine.

How do you know you have a kidney stone? You may feel no symptoms and not find out that you have a kidney stone until you pass one through your urine! Or you may find out when getting an image done of your abdomen that you happen to have one. Other times, you may feel symptoms. A kidney stone can cause pain on the flank or side of your body. The pain can come in bouts, lasting about half an hour or more and then come and go, or it can feel continually painful. It can be mild, or it can be so intensely painful that you need to go to the hospital. Another possible symptom is seeing blood in your urine. Some people have nausea and vomiting. It can feel like you need to urinate more urgently or frequently than usual. Urinating may become painful. In men, it can even cause pain in the penis or testicles. However, it is good to remember that you don’t have to have all or any of these symptoms when you have a kidney stone

If you are having these symptoms, you may also have another condition. For example, pain on the side of your body could be from a complicated urinary tract infection (UTI). Blood in the urine can also be a sign of kidney, bladder, and other cancers. In women, there may be a pregnancy, such as an ectopic pregnancy. Many other conditions can cause these symptoms; so, be sure to see a doctor.

What are some risk factors, or things that increase your risk of getting a kidney stone? Chronic conditions such as diabetes, overweight and obesity, and high blood pressure (hypertension), can increase your risk. This is one of the many reasons why seeing your primary care physician regularly, eating a healthy diet, and improving these conditions are important. Having had kidney stones in the past increases your risk of getting another one in the future. If you have had surgeries such as gastric bypass surgery or bariatric surgery, it can also increase your risk of getting kidney stones. Taking certain medications can also contribute. If you have had kidney stones in the past and are about to start a new medication, you can tell your doctor and ask about how to prevent more kidney stones. If you have gout, you have a higher risk of getting them. Also, not drinking enough water and frequent UTIs can also contribute to getting kidney stones.

If you think you may have a kidney stone, make sure to see a doctor. They can evaluate you and check to see if you have another condition. They may do an image to look for them, and they may treat you with fluids and medication. Depending on the severity, you may even need to go to the hospital and/or see a specialist such as a urologist. Sometimes stones may pass on their own, sometimes fluids and medication can help them pass, and sometimes it may even require the help of a urologist and special procedures to remove the stone or stones.

How can you try to prevent getting a kidney stone? Talk to your doctor about your specific situation. Improving your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, and managing diabetes can help for this and many other health reasons! If you have gout, a history of certain surgeries, or a history of getting stones in the past, make sure to discuss it with your doctor. Stay healthy this autumn!

Dr. Chang is a resident physicians who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.