According to the National Kidney Foundation, one in ten people will have kidney stones at least once in their lives. At this rate, there may be one person in your family who suffers from kidney stones and the excruciating pain they cause. However, for a condition that is so common, there must be some reason that a large portion of the population is getting kidney stones.
With this in mind, we will talk about the causes of kidney stones and how are kidney stones formed.
Kidney Stones | What Are They?
A kidney stone is a solid mass built with crystals. When crystals join together, they form a kidney stone, which is generally found in the gall bladder or kidneys. These stones travel through the ureters; they block the flow of urine. This swells the kidneys further, causing the ureter to spasm, which causes unbearable pain.
Common areas where the pain is most prevalent include the below the ribs and at the lower side back. In some patients, the pain travels forward towards the abdomen and down towards the groyne.
One kidney stone crystal is formed from a large number of tiny crystals. The medical community has discovered different types of kidney stones. While the answer to how are kidney stones formed may be the same for all types, their configuration might be different.
Here are the major types of kidney stones;
- Calcium Stones: Calcium stones are most commonly found in patients. As the name suggests, calcium is the main component in this type of kidney stone, and they are further divided into two subtypes;
- Calcium Oxalate: Our liver makes oxalate every day, and the same substance is present in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and chocolate. As you consume these foods, the body absorbs these foods. In addition to eating these foods, individuals taking Vitamin D are also at risk of suffering from kidney stones of this type.
- Calcium Phosphate: Calcium phosphate kidney stones are most common in individuals who are already suffering from metabolic conditions. This includes conditions like renal tubular acidosis. Plus, people taking medication for migraines or seizures can also develop kidney stones of this type.
- Struvite Stones: In the aftermath of a urinary tract infection (UTI), struvite stones can be formed. The bacteria causing the UTI can also make ammonia build up in urine. As a result, stones are formed. The struvite stones can grow in size quickly. The presence of ammonia raises the pH levels of urine, turning the yellow fluid alkaline, further giving room for the formation of struvite.
- Uric Acid Stones: These types of stones are commonly found in people who are suffering from chronic diarrhoea or malabsorption. In addition to this, those who consume high-protein diets and those with diabetes and metabolic syndrome can develop uric acid stones.
- Cystine Stones: People suffering from a hereditary condition called Cystinuria often develop Cystine Stones. In this condition, the kidneys excrete large amounts of a particular type of amino acid, causing the formation of stones.
For all types of kidney stones, the treatment can be different. Hence the right diagnosis is essential to deliver the right treatment. However, pain, which is the most common symptom of kidney stones, is prevalent in all types.
To get rid of these stones, patients are advised to drink enough fluids. This is done so that the kidney stones pass out through urine without taking any medicines. Even though the treatment for kidney stones depends on the type of stone and its symptoms, drinking water is recommended.
Other medications are given for pain management. Pain is caused when the stone travels through the ureters. In cases of severe pain, the patients are admitted to the hospital and prescribed pain management treatment through injection and an IV Line.
The last resort is surgically removing the stones, which is often practised when the kidney stone size is too large to pass through urine. The doctors will run blood tests and imaging tests to identify the position of the stones and extract them out surgically.
The Process of Kidney Stone Formation
The formation of kidney stones is the result of soluble salts merging together to form crystals. To understand how kidney stones are formed, you must know the primary function of kidneys. The primary function of our kidneys is to maintain the body’s balance in terms of water, minerals, and other salts. When the concentration of these salts is too high for the kidneys to filter and manage, they merge together and separate out as crystals. These are pointy crystals that have sharp edges.
These sharp edges run along the small veins, causing excruciating pain. Stone formation or kidney crystals build in stages. These are;
- Nucleation: The first stage of nucleation is when the free ions in a solution turn into microscopic particles. These particles form by the process of crystallisation and need micro-environments to build up. Such micro-environments may be present in the nephron.
- Aggregation: In this process, the crystals bind together to convert into large multi-component particles. In this process, another phenomenon is seen called secondary nucleation. According to the research, this process is an important link for the build-up of stones.
- Growth of Crystals: The last stage is where microscopic crystals take their shape. Remember that every stone crystal is an aggregation of multiple crystals and not a single structure.
Even though the process highlighted above is a bit technical, it will give you an idea about how are kidney stones formed. It is evident that kidney stone formation is not a one-step process. It takes time, and that is why it is important to take precautionary actions to disallow the build-up of crystals.
Can Kidney Stones be Prevented?
Yes, the prevention of kidney stones means limiting the consumption of all the food items that can increase your risk of developing kidney stones. However, to do so, you do need to take quick action after you have experienced pain due to kidney stones.
What happens is that if you have one kidney stone, more will start to build up, if you don’t take up any prevention measures. For this to happen, it is essential to implement some dietary measures.
The first thing is to start drinking considerable amounts of water. Experts say that you need to drink at least three litres of water, which can be roughly between 13 to 15 cups every day.
In addition to water, there are dietary changes recommended by doctors. For instance, depending on the condition, they suggest to tune down on consumables with high protein content.
Kidney stones are one of the most common health conditions, which do not have any life-threatening complications. But the pain caused by these stones is unbearable and needs immediate attention. Kidney stones are formed with the crystallisation process when different substances coming from the food we eat bind together. There are medications and healthcare practices available to treat and prevent kidney stones that are highly effective.
Get in touch with Santokh Hospital to further understand how are kidney stones formed and what are the treatment options for this condition.