Kidney Stones are a common urological disorder, affecting 1 out of every 10 Americans. These hard deposits of minerals and salts form inside the kidneys when your body has too much of particular wastes and not enough fluid to wash them out. As the hard, pebble-like stones pass through the urinary tract, they cause a range of symptoms, the most common being severe and debilitating pain.

Though small in size and usually harmless, kidney stones pack a big punch. So you can know what to expect should you get one, here’s everything you need to know about kidney stones – their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are four types of kidney stones and knowing which you have can help determine its cause and provide a more tailored treatment option. If you pass a kidney stone at home, try to keep it so your doctor can evaluate it.

Calcium Stones. The most common types of kidney stones are made of calcium oxalate. These stones can be caused by eating foods high in oxalate (like chocolate, nuts, or rhubarb), taking high doses of Vitamin D, or having intestinal bypass surgery.

Calcium stones may also be formed of calcium phosphate. These stones are caused by metabolic conditions like renal tubular acidosis or hyperparathyroidism.

Struvite Stones. Struvite stones are a result of certain urinary tract infections and are more common in women than men. These types of stones grow quickly and can become very large, causing severe infections or loss of kidney function.

Uric Acid Stones. Uric acid stones can occur in patients who don’t drink enough fluids, eat a high-protein diet, or have a family history of uric acid stones. They are also associated with patients who have diabetes, certain metabolic disorders, or have undergone chemotherapy.

Cystine Stones. Cystine stones are caused by a hereditary disease called cystinuria that causes the kidneys to produce excess amounts of amino acids.

Kidney Stone Symptoms

Kidney stones often cause no symptoms until they begin moving through the ureter, the small tube that connects the kidneys to the bladder. The most common symptom is severe pain in the side and back, just below the ribs. The pain may come and go, vary in intensity, and radiate to the groin or lower abdomen. Many patients note it as the worst pain they’ve ever felt.

Other common symptoms include:

  • Pain or burning with urination
  • A frequent need to urinate, with or without results
  • Pink, brown, or red urine that may smell bad
  • Fever or chills
  • Nausea and vomiting

Treatment Options

Small kidney stones will often pass on their own and require no medical intervention. Treatment typically includes increased water intake, pain relievers, and rest. Your doctor may also prescribe an alpha blocker, a medication that relaxes muscles in the ureter and helps you pass the stone more quickly.

Large kidney stones or those that cause severe symptoms may need medical intervention. Common treatments include:

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL): A procedure that uses powerful sound waves to break large kidney stones into smaller pieces.

Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy: A small incision is made in the back to surgically remove the stone.

Ureteroscopy (URS): A small ureteroscope is inserted into the ureter through the bladder to remove a lodged stone.

Urinary Catheters: If a kidney stone becomes lodged in the bladder, it can turn into a bladder stone and cause urinary retention. Your doctor may suggest a catheter to relieve the pressure in your bladder.

What else can you do?

There are a few steps you can take to lower your risk of future kidney stones:

  • Drink plenty of fluids
  • Avoid taking calcium or Vitamin D supplements
  • Avoid foods high in oxalate
  • Cut back on your sodium intake
  • Reduce meat consumption