Kidney stones are hard stones that can form in the kidney, in the tube (the ureter) draining urine from the kidney, or in the bladder.
Our kidneys remove many different chemicals from our body. This is really important to keep us healthy. These chemicals are passed from our kidneys to our bladder and out of our body. Occasionally these chemicals can join together and form kidney stones.
How common are they?
Each year 1 or 2 people in every 1,000 will have symptoms caused by kidney stones. About 1 in 8 men and 1 in 16 women will have an episode of pain caused by kidney stones at some time in their lives.
Kidney stones are more common in men. You are more likely to develop kidney stones if you eat a Western diet, don't drink enough fluids or you are overweight.
If you have a kidney stone there is about a 1 in 3 chance of having another stone within the following five years.
What are the symptoms?
Kidney stones often don't cause any symptoms. You may not realise that a stone has been formed. The symptoms caused by a kidney stone may include severe pain:
- A stone that is stuck in a kidney may cause pain in the side of your abdomen (loin).
- A stone that passes into the tube (the ureter) draining urine from your kidney may cause pain that starts in your loin and spreads (radiates) to your groin, or into your testicles if you are a man.
Other symptoms may include blood in your urine. A kidney stone may cause a urinary tract infection, which may cause pain when passing urine (dysuria) and having to pass urine more often.
Find out more about the symptoms of kidney stones.
What are the causes?
We don't know the reason why most kidney stones form. Very occasionally the stone may be caused by an underlying medical condition or by taking certain medicines.
Discover more about the causes of kidney stones.
Are any tests needed?
If you have any symptoms that suggest you may have a kidney stone, you will need tests to see whether or not you do have a stone. These tests will include special X-rays and scans of your kidneys and urinary tract. You may also need urine tests and blood tests to see if there is an underlying cause of the kidney stones and to check that your kidneys are working OK.
Read more about what tests there are for kidney stones.
What is the treatment?
Many stones that do cause renal colic are small and pass out with the urine in a day or so. You should drink plenty of fluids to help the stone pass more quickly. Strong painkillers are often needed to ease the pain until you do pass the stone.
Some stones do cause persistent symptoms or problems. The pain usually becomes severe and you may need to be admitted to hospital. There are various treatment options which include:
- Using high-energy shock waves to break up the stone.
- Using a telescope passed through the skin or up through your urinary tract to break up the stone.
An operation to remove the stone is only occasionally needed if these other techniques have not worked or are not possible. An operation may also be needed if you have a very large stone in your kidney.
Find out more about the treatments for kidney stones.
Are there any possible complications?
Complications from kidney stones are uncommon. Rarely, a large stone can completely block the urine passing down one of the tubes (ureters) draining urine from the kidney. This may lead to infection or even damage to the kidney. This is now very uncommon because X-rays or scans will usually detect any blockage so that large stones can be removed before they cause any damage to your kidneys.
Did you find this information useful?
Further reading & references
- Guidelines on Urolithiasis; European Association of Urology (2015)
- CUA guideline on the evaluation and medical management of the kidney stone patient; Canadian Urological Association (November 2016)
- Guidelines for acute management of first presentation of renal/ureteric lithiasis (excluding pregnancy); British Association of Urological Surgeons (February 2012)
- Renal or ureteric colic - acute; NICE CKS, April 2015 (UK access only)
- Macneil F, Bariol S; Urinary stone disease - assessment and management. Aust Fam Physician. 2011 Oct 40(10):772-5.
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