What are kidney stones and how are they formed?

Date Created: 07/03/2015
By Nicholas Dodaro, M.D., ABEM, FACEP

Why are the kidneys important?

The kidneys are filtration organs designed to filter waste products from the blood and remove them in the form of urine. In general, urine is a combination of by-products in food, drinks, drugs, vitamins, environmental contaminants and bacteria. Studies have shown that there may be more than 3,000 different compounds found in any given amount of urine, so even though urine can tell us a lot about your health, it can also be a very complicated substance.

How are kidney stones formed?

Kidney stones are a mixture of salt and minerals that, due to changes in their concentration in the blood, stick together and harden into stone-like pebbles. Kidney stones can range in size from a grain of salt to a golf ball. Most people don’t even know they have one because they are so small that they pass unnoticed, but in some cases large stones form and let their presence be known! Kidney stones can become lodged inside the kidneys or within the tiny walls of the ureters, or the tubes that bring urine into the bladder. When this happens, you’ll feel intense pain and need to seek medical attention right away.

How do I know if I have a kidney stone?

The general symptoms that occur with kidney stones are:

  • Intense pain in lower back, groin or abdomen. Typically pain will be located only on one side of the body and usually can be felt just below the ribs but above the waistline.
  • Frequent, painful urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and vomiting

Always seek medical attention, especially if your pain is sudden or severe. This type of pain and these symptoms can be associated with other serious medical conditions such as a appendicitis or gall bladder attack. Even painful and frequent urination can be a symptom of a urinary tract infection or sexually transmitted disease (STD).

How will I be diagnosed?

Your doctor will most likely order a series of tests to determine the cause of your symptoms. These may include:

  • CT scan, x-ray or ultrasound  
  • Blood work or urinalysis

Once you are properly diagnosed, your treatment can begin and relief will soon follow.

What is the treatment for kidney stones?

Depending on the size and location of the stone, your doctor may administer oral medication to help widen the ureter and allow the stone to pass. You may also be asked to drink plenty of water to keep your urine clear and kidneys filtering. If the stone is very large, you may need to go through shock wave therapy (ESWL) or Ureterscopy to break the stone down first before it can pass.  In other cases, surgery to remove the stone may be necessary.

What causes kidney stones?

Kidney stones can be attributed to family history or may be a complication of an existing medical condition such as dehydration, high blood pressure or gout. Sometimes your body reacts to excessive intakes of protein, sodium and high-oxalate foods including: chocolate, tea, coffee, beans, berries, dark leafy vegetables (yes, these things are usually good for you but it depends on how your body responds to them!) Contrary to popular belief, high calcium foods don’t necessarily cause kidney stones (even though the stones are predominately made up of calcium) although calcium supplements may. Always ask your doctor what he or she recommends and follow instructions.

Can kidney stones be prevented?

If your doctor believes that your kidney stones are caused by diet, then you may need to consult with a Registered Dietician to help you create a new eating plan. If your issue was caused by medication or a complication of a larger problem, your doctor will work with you to help you avoid or manage your condition as best as possible. 

GuideWell  Emergency Doctors can help with this and many other major and minor medical illnesses and injuries. Please visit our services page to find out how we can help you!



Nicholas Dodaro, M.D., ABEM, FACEP

Dr. Dodaro is board certified with the American Board of Emergency Medicine and is a fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He is a graduate of Tulane University Medical School in New Orleans, Louisiana. His residency training included an internship at Georgetown University in Internal Medicine followed by Emergency Medicine at the University of Florida HSC Jacksonville, Florida. Dr. Dodaro still enjoys seeing patients in all Crucial Care facilities and serves in a variety of leadership and management roles throughout the organization. He has held privileges in a variety of settings, such as private hospitals, free standing Emergency Departments, and Academic Medical Centers. He is actively involved in the growth and development of the Crucial Care Management Services based in Jacksonville. Dr. Dodaro enjoys spending time with his wife and three children.

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