Kidney Stone Causes and Symptoms

Kidney stones are crystalline concretions that form in the kidney. They can cause blockage inside the kidney or may get stuck in the ureter (the tube going from kidney to bladder). They can range in size from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a lemon.

Kidney Stone Causes

Most patients with kidney stones do not have one particular cause. Multiple factors can result in stone formation, including genetic, environmental, dietary, and medical. Among the most important factors are:

  • Calcium supplements
  • Certain medications (such as topiramate, furosemide)
  • Dehydration
  • Diabetes
  • Diseases causing metabolic acidosis
  • Family history of stone disease
  • Gastric bypass or lap-band surgery
  • Gastrointestinal diseases (such as ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease)
  • Hyperparathyroidism
  • Living in geographic areas with high incidence of stone disease
  • Sarcoidosis

In addition, there is a growing realization that stone disease is part of the "metabolic syndrome," a group of conditions that together constitute a high risk for premature death, including cardiovascular disease.

Kidney Stone Signs and Symptoms

Kidney stones are sometimes considered "the great mimicker" because the signs and symptoms are often misconstrued as being appendicitis, ovarian or testicular conditions, gastritis, or a urinary tract infection. Because the kidney is a visceral organ, the location of pain is not always the location of the stone, due to pain referral patterns. The most common signs and symptoms include:

  • Burning during urination
  • Flank pain (e.g., pain in the side of the abdomen, toward the back)
  • Frequent and/or urgent urination
  • Groin pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain in the testicles
  • Pain overlying the bladder
  • Visible or microscopic blood in the urine (hematuria)

Symptoms can be mild and vague, or severe and unrelenting. Classic kidney stone pain is often referred to as "colic," which is a bit of a misnomer in that "colic" implies that the pain comes and goes – but kidney stone pain is often constant and severe, with the patient often unable to find a comfortable position.

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