Kidney stones are hard lumps of salt and minerals from urine that form in the kidneys. Urine carries many wastes, and when too many minerals are in urine, they join together to form tiny crystals. Usually, these crystals are carried out of the kidney with urine, but sometimes the crystal stays in the kidney. When this happens, additional tiny crystals may join onto it, and over time, develop into a larger kidney stone.
Many smaller stones are eventually passed through the urinary tract with little issue, but larger stones may cause pain and blockages in the urinary tract. Individuals with kidney stones start to feel pain when the stone is moving and causing irritation or blockages.
Kidney stones are caused by mineral imbalances in the body. Common causes are poor hydration, high levels of urinary calcium and other minerals, low levels of urinary citrate, inadequate or excessive exercise, obesity, weight loss surgery, or eating foods high in salt. Some infections can also increase the risk of developing a kidney stone, and some people have a family history of kidney stone susceptibility.
Kidney stones can range in size from a grain of sand to as big as a golf ball. Generally, the larger the stone, the more intense the symptoms. Common symptoms include severe pain on one side of the lower back, persistent pain in the lower back or stomach, blood in the urine, nausea, fever, chills, and smelly or cloudy urine. Patients may experience one or many of these symptoms.
The ideal situation is to drink lots of fluids to help the stone pass on its own. Patients may also be prescribed medications to help with pain and make the urine less acidic. In cases where the stone is too large, fully blocks the urethra or is causing infection, surgery may be necessary. Modern procedures typically use less-invasive technologies to fragment or retrieve the stone. Open surgery is only necessary in extreme cases.
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