The kidney and the urinary tract are saddled with the responsibility of cleaning toxins found in the body system. While this process is carried out, some salts and minerals are excreted which are known to cause kidney stones if found in a conducive place for kidney stone formation.
Kidney stones, also known as Nephrolith or Renal Calculus, are crystalline solid matter formed in the kidneys and they can develop anywhere along the urinary tract. They are created from different materials in urine. The urine is known to contain different dissolved minerals and salts. Usually, these stones are small enough to pass through the urinary tract without any serious issue.
In other cases, these kidney stones can grow to at a size of about 3 millimeters. Some kidney stones are so large, they fill up the hollows of the kidney. Masses of this size would definitely find it very difficult to pass through the urinary tract and this causes ureter blockage. In some cases, these huge masses, if found in the kidney can stay there without causing any issues.
This condition causes one of the most intense pain in medical history, starting out at the flank or the lower back, radiating further into the groin area. This pain is known medically as Renal Colic. It typically comes in waves which could last between 20 minutes and as long as an hour.
The blockage of the urinary tract by kidney stones has been known to cause decreased function and dilation of the kidney.
Kidney stones come in different colors and types, made of different minerals and salts. To get effective treatment, these stones need to be examined. This examination can also be used to determine how to stop new stones from forming.
There are different types of stones, which depends on the most common materials a patient has in a patient’s urine, which combine to form the kidney stone found in a patient. The most popular types of kidney stones are:
This is by far the most popular type of kidney stones found in patients. It is so prevalent that in 5 kidney stone patients, 4 have the calcium kidney stone.
There are two types of kidney stones. The Calcium Oxalate and the Calcium Phosphate kidney stones. The Calcium Oxalate kidney stones are more common than the Calcium Phosphate Kidney stones.
This condition is found in people who take too much Calcium, which gets into their urine forming stones in the process.
Uric acid is a waste product that is produced due to chemical changes in the body system. In acidic urine, uric acid does not dissolve fully, instead kidney stones made of uric acid are formed.
This type of kidney stone occurs in 5 to 10 percent of kidney stone patients.
Acid urine can occur due to being obese, having diabetes, diarrhea, a diet of high protein from animal sources and little vegetables and fruits, and Gout.
These are not common type of kidney stone. These kidney stones are formed due to chronic Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs). Some of the bacteria from this infection makes urine produced very alkaline in nature. This condition makes for a healthy growing ground for Magnesium ammonium phosphate kidney stones also known as Stuvites. They grow very fast and are large in size with branches.
This is a very rare type of kidney stones, less than one percent of patients have this. Cystine is one of the amino acids found in protein. Having the condition in which a person has too much cystine in their system, known as Cystinuria, is very rare and an inherited metabolic disorder. High amounts of cystine in the body system, causes kidney stones to form. These stones can form from early childhood.
The formation of crystals in the urine is a normal phenomenon, as earlier mentioned, urine contains different minerals and salts, which are crystalline in nature. Therefore, urine produced by the kidney contains substances that promotes the formation or development of crystals, which transform into kidney stones.
Common promoters of formation of these crystals include calcium, phosphorous, oxalate, sodium, uric acid and cystine (in the case of individuals with cystinuria).
These promoters are found in the bloodstream and by virtue of the way the body system functions, they find themselves in urine during the purification of the system done by the kidneys.
In addition to these kidney stones formation promoters, naturally, urine contains proteins and other biological compound that are known to inhibit the formation of kidney stones.
Other factors that increase the chances of kidney stone formation include a reduced total urine volume. The higher the concentration of urine formed in the urinary tract, the higher the chances of crystal formation reactions to occur as there are high content of promoting minerals and salts in the urine.
Medications which are used for the treatment and management, of kidney failure, different cancers, Hepatitis and HIV (AIDS), increases the risk of having kidney stones. These drugs contain the kidney stone promoters in high concentrations.
Some medical conditions are also known to increase the concentration of chemical promoters of kidney stones. However, patients found in this category are minute in number.
A lower concentration of urine produced means less supersaturation leading to the inhibition of formation of crystals; kidney stones. Other inhibitors include citrate, magnesium, pyrophosphate, phytate, and other molecules formed from normal metabolism. These compounds or molecules are called urinary macromolecules and are known to eliminate the crystals before they attach themselves to the kidney or any part of the urinary tract.
For these tiny crystals to grow, into bigger stones, urine has to be supersaturated, as mentioned earlier. For this to occur, a low urine volume has to be produced in addition to an abnormally high concentration of kidney stone promoters, a very low concentration of kidney stone inhibitors, and a combination of all these conditions.
A normal urine formation system has a combination of these factors, but in balanced proportions. This balance is not easily attained due to different factors which include genetic issues, lifestyle and other factors.
As earlier mentioned, there are different factors that lead to the formation of kidney stones which includes genetics, diseases, medication, lifestyle, and so on.
People with one or more of these factors are at risk of forming kidney stones in their urinary tract. Some conditions that promote the formation of crystals in the kidney, leading to kidney stones include:
Most times, kidney stones show no symptoms what so ever. This only occurs when they are small and can easily be passed out.
However, if the kidney stone is big in size and blocks the kidney or urinary tract, a variety of symptoms are experienced which include:
In some cases, the pain experienced can shift locations. This is due to the movement of the stones down the urinary tract.
If a patient experiences such symptoms, he should not hesitate to contact a health care provider for consultation.
Diagnosis of kidney stone starts with a physical exam carried out by a professional health care provider. This is followed by a review of medical history of the patient. Information needed to be given by the patient includes family medical history, GI issues, surgeries, disorders and diseases.
A urine and blood sample could be examined. X-rays or computerized tomography scans could provide images to properly understand and diagnose the issue.
Urinalysis. This is simply the test of urine samples. Urine samples are collected in a special container and are delivered to health care facilities. This test analysis will detect if the patient has a an infection, or if the urine has a high amount of kidney stone promoters.
Blood tests. The blood of the patient is drawn by the health care provider and can be tested to show biochemical problem which could lead to the formation of kidney stones.
X-ray. Abdominal X-rays are formed when radiation is used to take images of the stomach cavity and passed onto film or a computer screen
The images gotten here are interpreted by the radiologist and location of kidney stones in the kidney or urinary tract can be pinpointed easily.
CT scans. Using a combination of x-rays and computer softwares to create three dimensional images. These images can be used to accurately know the position of the stones, show conditions in which the stones were formed and best treatment to be used to remove or eliminate the kidney stones.
The size and composition of the kidney stones usually determine the course of treatment to be taken. This is usually determined by a doctor or group of doctors (urologists whose job is to study the kidneys and urinary tract and diseases that could be found in them.)
Small stones can easily be passed out without any serious treatment or surgery, but due to the intense pain experienced by patients diagnosed to have kidney stones, pain medications are prescribed.
For patients with bigger stones, a more radical approach is needed as a course of treatment. Some of these treatments include:
A lithotripter is used to crush kidney stones. This is carried out by a urologist and on an outpatient bases and anesthesia is used and the patient can go back home that day, if no complication occurs.
The broken stones can then be passed out easily through the urinary tract.
A ureteroscope; a long instrument which looks like a tube with an eyepiece, is used to find and remove, if possible, break the kidney stones using laser technology.
This instrument is passed through the urethra of the patient, up into the bladder and into the ureter. The stones are removed or crushed depending on the size.
This is an out-patient procedure carried out by a urologist.
This procedure involves the use of a very thin viewing instrument known as a nephroscope to locate and remove the stones found. This keeps the patient in the hospital for a few days, because the kidney stones are removed surgically via an incision on the patients back.
For larger stones, shock waves are delivered using ultrasonic waves.
The best way to prevent kidney stones is avoid build of promoters in the urinary tract.
A Good diet and exercise really helps in preventing the formation of kidney stones. High fluid intake is important to increase total urine volume and make urine formed unsaturated.
If a patient is diagnosed with diseases that increases the buildup of promoting salts and minerals, this should be managed or treated promptly, to avoid providing suitable conditions for the formation of kidney stones. Kidney stones can be very problematic and reoccurring. It is best for a patient to go for a routine checkup to check any buildup or formation of kidney stone crystals in the kidneys and urinary tract.
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