Roughly 1 in 10 people will experience the exquisite discomfort of a kidney stone at some point in their lives. And according to the National Kidney Foundation, more than half a million people end up in the emergency room each year due to kidney stones.
But what are they?
What’s A Kidney Stone?
Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form from urine in the kidney.
Urine carries all sorts of waste particles and chemicals, destined to be expelled from the body through urination. But sometimes, such as when the urine is particularly concentrated or when it stays in the kidneys too long, those particles and chemicals begin to crystallize and clump together into stabby little stones destined to ruin your day instead.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common sign of a kidney stone is, quite simply, pain.
Kidney stones hurt. And this pain is most often going to appear along the side of the abdomen or lower back (right around where the kidneys are), in the lower belly or around the groin or testicles. The pain can range from mild to severe and can be constant or come and go in waves. The pain can also move and shift if/as the stone passes through your body.
Other symptoms of a kidney stone can include:
- Burning sensation with urination
- Frequent urination or trouble urinating
- Cloudy urine or evidence of blood in urine
- Evidence of small stones in urine
- Fever and chills
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, contact a urologist. Through urinalysis, blood tests, and imaging scans, they’ll be able to tell if kidney stones are the culprit.
Treating Kidney Stones
Kidney stones can be tricky and can range in size from the unnoticeable to the unforgettable.
Some will pass through the urinary system with nothing more than pain medication and lots of water. Others get lodged somewhere in the urinary tract, causing severe pain and heightened risk of infection, or even get trapped in the kidney itself, clogging it up like gravel.
“And that’s when you have to have the expertise and the ability to go into the kidney directly and minimally invasively to treat these very large and complex stone burdens,” says urologic surgeon Ramsay Kuo, MD, one of the three fellowship-trained endourologists leading Sarasota Memorial’s First Physicians Group Kidney Stone Clinic.
At the FPG Kidney Stone Clinic, urologic surgeons treat kidney stones in a variety of ways, depending on what treatment path is best for the individual. These include:
- Laser Stone Surgery – Minimally invasive and without incision, the urologist sends a scope with a camera and a laser down the urethra and zaps the stone into tiny fragments that can be passed through urine without fuss.
- Shock Wave Lithotripsy – This nonsurgical treatment focuses high energy shock waves from outside the body to shatter the kidney stone inside, so it can be passed through urination. It is the most common form of lithotripsy, which comes from the Greek “litho” (stone) and “tripso” (breaking or pulverizing).
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy – Used to treat extremely large stone burdens, this minimally invasive surgery involves the surgeon entering the anatomy through a keyhole incision along the flank or lower back, to directly access the problem and remove the stones.
And with advances in technology, even those very complex stone burdens can be resolved in a day or so. “We can clear a massive amount of stone in one sitting,” says Dr. Kuo, “and get the patient out the next day.”
After A Kidney Stone
After a kidney stone, it’s important to talk with your urologist about what caused the stone and whether it’s something that can be prevented in the future. Sometimes, stones are caused by dehydration or lack of exercise, too much salt or too much high fructose corn syrup, and simple behavioral changes can stave off future incidents.
For more information about the FPG Kidney Stone Clinic, click here.
For more information about urology services at Sarasota Memorial, click here.
Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and learned about kidney stones the hard way.