Kidney stones
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Kidney stones can be excruciating. Also known clinically as renal lithiasis, kidney stones have been around for probably as long as mankind, as there is even evidence of this very painful condition as far back as the Ancient Egyptians. Kidney stones can cause debilitating pain, and when a patient experiences them for the first time, it is not uncommon for them to believe that they are dying. In some cases kidney stones can actually have no symptoms. Although it is rare, there are cases that kidney stones were picked up via x-ray or other imaging technique without patient complaint of pain.


A kidney stone is typically painful when it is associated with a blockage, infection, is relatively large, or is trying to pass. In this case, which is most common, symptoms include bloody urine, cloudy urine, urine with a very intense but foul odor, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills in the event of an infection, a persistent desire to urinate, and the inability to completely urinate as well as extreme pain which can be constant or fluctuate approximately every fifteen minutes. The pain of a kidney stone is usually fast and intense when it strikes.
Kidney stones
Image: Kidney Stones

The pain of a kidney stone may be anywhere from the edge of the lower ribcage to the abdomen to the side or even the back. What makes the pain of a kidney stone identifiable is its intensity. In some cases a kidney stone may initially mimic an appendicitis.


Kidneys are there to remove fluid, electrolytes, and waste from the bloodstream and turn it into urine. High levels of calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and cystine or low levels of citric acid or magnesium which help prevent the formation of crystals in the kidneys can develop from tiny excess crystal into large formations which we call kidney stones. Kidney stones are very hard, like small rocks inside the body, which is what makes them so painful as they force their way through the kidneys and the ureters. Some kidney stones are caused by calcium deposits while others are formed when a bacterium remains in the kidneys from chronic urinary tract infections. Genetic disorders and medications such as chemotherapy can also cause kidney stones. Kidney stones are a sign that the body is either carrying too much or too little of a naturally occurring substance in the body.
Image: Urinary Tract Infection


Risk factors for kidney stones include a inadequate intake of fluid, family or personal medical history, diet, medication, diseases, a lack of activity, being male and Caucasian, and having an electrolyte imbalance. However, sometimes a kidney stone simply develops due to changes in the environment or changes in diet.


A routine medical examination may uncover kidney stones that are asymptomatic, although in most cases a patient seeks out a physician due to the extraordinary pain they are in. A urinalysis may help a physician discover the chemical make up of the kidneys and whether or not this puts the patient in a high risk bracket for kidney stones. X-rays, ultrasounds, a spiral CT scan, and a intravenous pyelography may help determine the presence of kidney stones.


A kidney stone isn’t likely to cause many complications unless it grows large enough to cause a blockage of urine passage. Blockages can cause severe pain, bleeding, kidney damage, or an infection. Often, patients find they are more comfortable after the kidney stone has passed, even if they weren’t terribly uncomfortable to begin with. Small stones which tend to cause a blockage in the tube responsible for connecting the kidneys to the bladder can lead to chronic infections and kidney damage.


Many kidney stones don’t require a lot of treatment, simply drinking a lot of water can help a kidney stone pass. Granted, passing a kidney stone can be very painful, but once it is done, all the pain disappears. Drinking as much as 2 quarts of water and staying physically active is often enough to get rid of a kidney stone. While the risks are still being researched, a procedure known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a technique used to break the stone into passable pieces through the use of electro-shock waves. Other procedures include parathyroid surgery to reduce kidney stone build up caused by overactive thyroids, uteroscopic stone removal, paracutaneous nephrolithamy, and the placement of a bypass shunt to deal with blockages.

Kidney stones can recur in individuals who have had them once, or they may be a one time event. Either way, kidney stones are very painful and should be checked by a physician as soon as symptoms appear.
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