Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Updated in November 2021

Kidney stones are stone-like masses that can form anywhere along the urinary system. They often form as a result of a diet that is rich in protein and sodium, with low fluid intake, which makes the urine more concentrated and increases the risk of stones forming.

The main symptoms of kidney stones are severe pain in the lower back, which can limit activity, and pain when urinating. Other common symptoms include cloudy urine and fever above 38°C (or 100.4°F). 

If you have any signs or symptoms that could suggest kidney stones, you should see your doctor or urologist for testing and possible treatment.

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Causes of kidney stones

The formation of kidney stones can be influenced by several factors, the main ones being:

●    Low fluid intake, which makes the urine more concentrated

●    Diet rich in protein and/or sodium, and low in fiber

●    Recurrent urinary tract infection (UTI)

●    Genetic predisposition

●    Inflammatory bowel diseases

●    Hyperparathyroidism

●    Obesity and sedentary lifestyle

●    Frequent use of aspirin, antacids and diuretics.

In addition, kidney stones can also be caused by rare diseases such as primary or secondary hyperoxaluria. This disease is characterized by an accumulation of oxalate in the body due to a deficiency of enzymes responsible for metabolizing this compound. This causes a build-up of oxalate levels, which then results in kidney stones. 

Common symptoms

Symptoms emerge when the stone is very large or if it travels through the urinary tract, causing pain and discomfort. Symptoms will vary in intensity depending on the location of the stone. The main symptoms of kidney stones are:

●    Pain in the lower back that may limit activity

●    Back pain that may radiate to the groin

●    Cloudy urine, and in some cases blood in the urine

●    Constant urge to pee

●    Pain when urinating

●    Fever above 38º C (or 100.4°F)

In cases where urine flow is obstructed or blocked by a stone, you may not be able to urinate, which will increase pain and discomfort. This may also increase the risk for a UTI. 

Symptoms self-checker

To find out if you are at risk for having kidney stones, specify your symptoms in the quiz below:

  1. 1. Severe lower back pain, which may limit activity
  2. 2. Pain radiating from the back to the groin
  3. 3. Pain when urinating
  4. 4. Pink, red or brown urine
  5. 5. Frequent urge to urinate
  6. 6. Nausea or vomiting
  7. 7. Fever above 38ºC or (100ºF)

Confirming a diagnosis

A diagnosis is confirmed by a family doctor or urologist by first assessing the signs and symptoms reported. Imaging, like ultrasound or X-ray, may be ordered to identify the size and location of a possible kidney stone, which is important as this will guide treatment.

The doctor may also recommended a urinalysis (also known as a “routine and microscopy” or “R & M” ) to investigate the stone's composition. This test can identify whether the stone is made up of calcium oxalate, uric acid, cystine or struvite.

Treatment options

Treatment for kidney stones is usually completed as an out-patient. It typically involves rest, adequate hydration and prescription medication as indicated by the doctor. Common medications used for treatment include analgesics (e.g. acetaminophen) or antispasmodics (e.g. buscopan), as well as medications that help to dissolve the stone and ease its passing through the urinary tract.

In addition, those who have kidney stones must also be cautious with their salt intake. They are advised to drink a glass of orange juice each day and to reduce daily protein intake.

In cases where the stones are large and are unable to be eliminated through the urine, or if they are causing obstruction, a minor procedure may be required to dissolve or remove the kidney stone.

Natural treatment for kidney stones

Any natural treatments for kidney stones should be used as a complement to the treatment indicated by your doctor. One great natural remedy is phyllanthus tea, which contains diuretic properties and facilitates the elimination of stones.