Kidney stones are hard deposits in the kidneys that are made of salt and minerals. In some cases, kidney stones can be passed naturally from the body, although the symptoms can be quite painful. Larger kidney stones can lead to kidney disease and may require medical treatment, including surgery.
As part of an academic medical center connected to ongoing research, The University of Kansas Health System learns of the latest medical advances while they’re developing. Because of this, our patients are often among the first to benefit from new kidney stone treatment options through access to clinical trials.
What are kidney stones?
Every person has some amount of salt, minerals and other crystal-forming substances in their urine. Kidney stones form when there is not enough fluid in your urine to dilute those substances, and they clump together.
After kidney stones form, they can either pass from the body through the urinary tract during urination or they can stay in the kidney. Sometimes, kidney stones can pass in the urine stream without much discomfort. However, larger kidney stones can be quite painful to pass. Kidney stones that cause irritation or blockage can cause severe pain and lead to infection.
Types of kidney stones
The 4 main types of kidney stones are named for their primary chemical components:
- Calcium oxalate is the most common type of kidney stone, which develops due to the concentrations of calcium and oxalate in the urine.
- Cystine kidney stones tend to run in families but are relatively rare.
- Struvite kidney stones are not common, and are caused by upper urinary tract infections.
- Uric acid kidney stones may develop due to a diet high in purine (a chemical found in organ meats and shellfish).
Kidney stone symptoms and risks
Kidney stones can vary widely in size, and the symptoms vary accordingly. Very small kidney stones may have no symptoms at all. Kidney stone pain can also change in intensity and location as the stone moves down the urinary tract.
Possible kidney stone symptoms can include:
- Discomfort or pain while urinating
- Fever and chills that could indicate an infection
- Nausea and vomiting
- Persistent pain in the low abdomen that comes in waves
- Sharp pain on either side of your lower back
- Urine that’s cloudy, has a strong odor or has blood in it
There is no single cause for kidney stones, and anyone can be at risk for developing kidney stones. Some risk factors could increase your chances of getting kidney stones:
- A diet that’s high in sodium and other minerals that form kidney stones
- A family history or personal history of kidney stones
- Being obese
- Certain medical conditions, including recurrent urinary tract infections
- Certain prescription medications and over-the-counter supplements
- Not drinking enough water
- Some types of surgery, such as gastric bypass surgery
Kidney stone diagnosis and screening
There are several tests your doctor may suggest to identify the presence of a kidney stone:
- Blood tests to check your kidney health as well as measuring the calcium content and uric acid levels in your blood
- Imaging tests such as a CT scan or ultrasound
- Urine analysis to check the amounts of stone-forming minerals that are present in your urine
If you’ve already passed a kidney stone, your doctor may analyze the mineral composition of the stone to determine the cause for its growth. From there, you can work together to develop a preventive treatment plan to limit the formation of additional kidney stones.
Leading research and clinical trials
As part of one of the nation's premier academic medical centers, our care providers are committed to research and scientific discovery through the University of Kansas Medical Center. We can often include our patients in potentially lifesaving clinical trials and treatment options not available anywhere else.
Kidney stone treatment
Choosing the best treatment for your kidney stones depends on the size of the stones:
- Small kidney stones can be flushed from the body by increasing water intake and taking an over-the-counter pain reliever for any discomfort. Your doctor may also give you a medication to help you pass your kidney stones.
- For larger kidney stones, your doctor may focus on treatments to break the stones down into longer, smaller pieces that can be passed more easily. Very large stones could require surgery to remove instead.
At The University of Kansas Health System, we offer today's leading-edge treatments for large kidney stones.
Shock wave therapy has been used for many years to help break apart kidney stones without surgery. However, the older machines were large and the procedure was uncomfortable. Newer machines allow for better imaging of the kidney stones and more precise delivery of the shock waves to minimize the risk to surrounding organs. This treatment is completely noninvasive and requires minimal recovery time.
For large, firm stones in the kidney or upper ureter, PCNL may be recommended. During this procedure, a small tube is placed through the back directly into the kidney. A telescope is then used to visualize and break apart the stone. This procedure is often used for people with kidney stones that are resistant to other forms of treatment.
Ureteroscopy is a procedure that is frequently used for stones in the ureter – the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. It is the most common treatment of lower ureteral stones. Ureteroscopy involves using a small telescope to locate kidney stones so they can be found and treated simultaneously. With this procedure, incisions are not necessary.
Why choose us for kidney stone treatment
- As a part of an academic medical center, we offer the latest treatment options, including access to groundbreaking clinical trials. These therapies often reduce recovery time and improve outcomes.
- Our experts have significant experience performing the latest kidney stone procedures with great success. Their expertise allows most people to be treated using a minimally invasive approach – avoiding incisions.
- Working closely with our interventional radiologists, we offer the latest in imaging techniques for kidney stone diagnosis and treatment, resulting in excellent success rates.