Kidney stones are masses of crystalized minerals or salt that form inside your kidneys. Kidney stones eventually move from your kidneys to your bladder and pass out of your body when you urinate. Passing kidney stones can be extremely painful.

Metabolic disorders and other medical problems can lead to kidney stones. Obesity, diabetes and hypertension are also identified as risk factors for developing kidney stones. If these risk factors are properly managed, the likelihood of getting kidney stones decreases by 70%.

At Ohio State’s Metabolic Stone Clinic in Columbus, our multidisciplinary team works together to treat patients who have frequent kidney stones.

Kidney stone symptoms

Kidney stones typically don’t cause any symptoms until they start to move through your kidneys and into the urinary tract. If kidney stones become trapped in the urinary tract, you may experience:

  • Sudden and severe pain on your side or lower back
  • Sharp pain that moves toward your lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes and goes and changes from mild to severe
  • Pain or a burning sensation while you urinate

Other signs of kidney stones may include:

  • Urine that appears pink, red, brown or cloudy
  • An odd odor to your urine
  • Persistent urge to urinate
  • Urinating in small amounts or more often than usual
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever, if infection is present

How do kidney stones form?

All kidney stones form because of an imbalance between stone promoters and stone inhibitors.

Kidney stone promoters are circumstances that increase the concentration of salts in your kidneys. Increased salt in your kidneys can lead to stone formation. Kidney stone promoters include:

  • Diet high in salt
  • Diet high in meat
  • Not drinking enough fluids and not urinating enough
  • Diet high in oxalate, which is found in foods like spinach and nuts

Kidney stone inhibitors are actions patients can take to slow the formation and growth of kidney stones. Kidney stone inhibitors include:

  • Drinking at least 2.5 liters of water per day
  • Restricting salt to 2,300 mg per day
  • Limiting meat, poultry and fish in diet

An imbalance in promoters and inhibitors can be caused by a metabolic disorder, lifestyle choices or other medical reasons.

What causes kidney stones?

The following medical conditions can lead to kidney stones:

  • Digestive issues – People who have chronic diarrhea, are dehydrated or aren’t able to properly absorb fluids or nutrients don’t make enough urine. This causes a higher concentration of minerals and salts in the urine.
  • Unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices – Diets high in sugar and caffeine increase the likelihood of kidney stone formation. Obesity also increases the risk of developing kidney stones.
  • Structural defect in the urinary tract – If the urinary tract is blocked or restricted, it can prevent urine and waste from being eliminated from the body.
  • Metabolic disorders – If a condition or disorder prevents the body from properly breaking down food, it can lead to high levels of oxalate and cystine in the urine, which leads to stone formation. Examples of metabolic disorders include hypercalciuria, hyperoxaluria, hypocitraturia and gouty diathesis.
  • Other medical conditions – Complications from thyroid problems, urinary tract infections and gout can all lead to kidney stones.

Types of kidney stones

There are five main types of kidney stones, all of which can be identified and treated at Ohio State’s Metabolic Stone Clinic in Columbus, Ohio. Identifying the type helps doctors know how best to treat stones.

The five main types of kidney stones:

  • Calcium oxalate
  • Calcium phosphate
  • Uric acid
  • Struvite, also known as infection stones
  • Cystine

Diagnosing kidney stones

The Metabolic Stone Clinic offers the latest technology in kidney stone diagnosis and provides comprehensive evaluations and care. The main strategies for diagnosing kidney stones include:

  • Stone analysis – Your doctor will ask you to bring kidney stones you’ve passed to your appointment. We’ll send the stones to a lab to be analyzed, and the lab will determine what kind of kidney stones you have. Kidney stones can also be collected by a urologist during a scheduled procedure.
  • 24-hour urine analysis – Your doctor will have you collect a urine sample and send it to a specialized lab. The lab will evaluate the calcium, oxalate, citrate, uric acid and sodium levels in your urine, along with protein.
  • Blood tests – Your doctor will collect a blood sample and have it tested to check your electrolyte levels, hormone levels and kidney function.

Once the type of kidney stones and risk factors are identified, your care team will develop an individualized treatment plan for you.

Kidney stone treatment

Once they identify the type and cause of your stones, a multidisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, dietitians and other health care providers creates a specific treatment strategy, which might include the following:

  • Education – Your care team will spend time explaining what kind of kidney stones you have, how they are formed and what changes you can make to avoid them.
  • Changes in fluid intake and diet – You should drink at least 2.5 liters of water per day and limit salt intake to 2,300 mg per day. Your doctor may recommend other changes, like avoiding nuts and spinach and limiting the amount of meat and fish you consume.
  • Medication - Medical treatment effectively reduces the risk of stone formation by 70%. Your doctor can recommend medication that may work for you.
  • Lifestyle changes – Lifestyle changes like getting regular physical activity can help promote a healthy weight, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, which lower your risk of forming kidney stones.

You’ll be monitored at the Metabolic Stone Clinic every few months for the first year of treatment and then every six to nine months for follow-up appointments as needed. The team at Ohio State’s Metabolic Stone Clinic can provide you with the best options to stop kidney stones from forming.

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