Common symptoms of kidney stones include acute, cramping pain felt in the back or side that gets worse over time. Pain occurs as the stone passes from the ureter, the tube that links the bladder and kidney, or when it travels through the urethra, a tube that carries urine out of the body. If a stone is large and blocks the flow of urine, symptoms of kidney stones might include vomiting and nausea. Urine might also be tinged pink or red as stones move through the urinary tract and produce bleeding.
Some people experience no symptoms of kidney stones when the body expels them. Two-thirds of kidney stones require no treatment, and the patient might be unaware that small stones are passing through the ureter or urethra. Patients typically seek treatment when painful symptoms of kidney stones prompt a visit to an emergency room. The pain might appear in waves and radiate to the groin area when a stone becomes stuck.
Kidney stones form as crystals in the urine when salt and minerals become unbalanced, unite, and grow over time. They can range in size from a grain of sand to the size of an egg. Larger kidney stones commonly require medical treatment to enable passage out of the body. The most common type of kidney stone is comprised of calcium combined with oxalate or phosphate; these chemicals found in many foods.
Doctors typically recommend drinking plenty of water when symptoms of kidney stones first appear. Water dilutes the urine and might also prevent formation of stones in the future. For very large stones, shock waves might be used to break the stones into fragments small enough to travel through urinary tubes. In some cases, a stent might be inserted into the ureter to keep it open until the stone passes.
When a patient seeks medical care for symptoms of kidney stones, a doctor usually takes an x-ray of the kidneys and performs blood tests. He or she might tell the patient to collect and save urine over the next day or two to determine if a stone passes. In cases where no pain exists, kidney stones might be discovered as a patient undergoes tests for an unrelated disorder.
Once kidney stones appear, they usually occur again. Drinking eight to ten glasses of water a day might prevent future symptoms of kidney stones in some patients. Doctors also suggest adding fiber to the diet and reducing the consumption of meat, including beef, poultry, and pork. Eating more dairy products and reducing salt intake also might help prevent formation of stones. Grapefruit juice is linked to an increased risk of kidney stones, along with foods that contain oxalate, such as chocolate, dark green vegetables, and nuts.