A kidney stone is a crystalline and hard mineral material that gets formed within the kidney or in our urinary track. Kidney stones are a common cause of hematuria (blood in urine) and often cause severe pain in the abdomen, groin or in the flank. Kidney stones are also sometimes called renal calculi.
The condition of having a stone or multiple stones in the kidney is known as nephrolithiasis. However, having stones in other locations in the urinary track is known as urolithiasis. Any person can develop this disease, but people with certain diseases and conditions or people who take certain medications like calcium-containing antacids, diuretics and protease inhibitors are more susceptible to this disease.
This illness is more common in men than in women.
Urinary stones, mostly develop in patients who are between 20-49 years and people who have suffered more than one attack of this illness are always prone to further stone development. Kidney stones are more common in residents of industrialized countries than bladder stones. Opposite of the same proves to be true for residents of the developing world, where stone in the bladder is most common. It is believed that dietary factors play a major role in creating this difference. Over the last few decades, it has been observed that incidents of developing kidney stones have increased, which is more likely related to the obesity epidemic around the globe.
People with chronically elevated uric acid levels are also more prone to the formation of uric acid related kidney stones. Pregnant women, though the numbers are few, at times develop kidney stones. Factors that may contribute to kidney stone formation during pregnancy includes a slowing of the passage of urine, due to decreasing bladder capacity because of the her enlarged uterus and increase in the progesterone levels in her body.
Often dehydration from reduced fluid intake, over time, leads to the formation of kidney stones.
Diagnosis of kidney stones is a controversial procedure. Usually to confirm the diagnosis of this illness, imaging tests are performed on the patients. In case of medical emergency non-contrast CT scans are done on the patients, since this can be done rapidly and it helps to rule out other causes for flank and abdominal pain.
However, in the recent times, as it is believed that CT scan exposes the patients to significantly more radiation, ultrasound scans along with plain abdominal X-ray is used for diagnosing kidney stones. When patients are put on medication, it has been observed that small stones pass out naturally through the urine. However, for larger stones (beyond 9-10mm) lithotripsy is done to break up the larger stones into small pieces, with the help of shock waves, so that they can pass out through the urinary system.