Kidney stones: How they form and are treated

Kidney stones can be formed when the kidneys have too much of certain substances, causing them to crystallize. They can grow to different sizes and become very painful to the touch. Depending on the size of these kidney stones, the doctor or urologist will decide how to most efficiently remove them from your body.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are a hardening of crystals caused by minerals from food and grow slowly. Kidney stones largely always arise in the kidneys themselves, but can also occur in the entire urinary tract as well as in the bladder. They can be small and harmless, making them easy to remove from the body through the urine, but they can also become larger, making their removal through the urine more painful or even impossible, requiring surgical intervention in the worst case.
Statistics have proven that men are generally more prone to acquiring kidney stones than women and it occurs most often between the ages of 35 and 50.

Some symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • Severe pain in the back or in the side of your abdomen or occasionally around the groin. The pain depends on where the stone is located. The pain may last several minutes to hours intermittently.
  • Pain when sitting or lying down
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Cloudy or strongly odorous urine
  • Blood in the urine caused by kidney stones that can rub against the inner walls
  • Burning and/or painful feeling when urinating
  • Feeling like you need to urinate more often, even when you don’t have to go

How do I get these kidney stones?

Kidney stones can be caused by various factors that would normally be filtered by the kidneys. Diet, drink, family history, medications or not drinking enough water can be important causes for kidney stones. Usually a certain substance is excreted in increased levels in the urinary tract that can lead to the crystallization of stones. If your close relatives have also suffered from kidney stones, your risk will also be greater.

What is the treatment for kidney stones?

First you will want to be sure that these are kidney stones and not other conditions by performing an ultrasound or a computed tomography. With a computed tomography it is much easier and more efficient to find kidney stones than with an ultrasound where they can sometimes be more difficult to see. Once it has been determined that kidney stones are actually present, they will make the diagnosis based on their size:

Small kidney stones

Drinking a lot of water per day in combination with medication to reduce pain and optimize urination so that the kidney stones can still be removed through the urine.

Larger kidney stones

  • crushing kidney stones by using shock waves outside the body. These strong vibrations will try to break the kidney stone into small pieces so that it can still leave the body naturally through the urine. This treatment will be done under light anesthesia.
  • With the help of a ureteroscope. This is a thin, lighted tube with a camera that can be inserted through the urethra to the ureters and bladder to pull the stone back out or to reduce it if it is still too large. This will usually be done under general anesthesia.
  • If there is no other option or in the case of very large kidney stones, the stones will be surgically removed.