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How do you get kidney stones?
There are different reasons that may directly or indirectly increase the risk you get kidney stones. Kidney stones usually do not happen overnight and are often caused by an ongoing imbalance or underlying condition. Identifying what causes kidney stone in your body and the types of kidney stones you may have are very important as they may affect the things you can do to prevent or treat your kidney stones.
In this guide
- What causes kidney stones in adults?
- How do kidney stones happen?
- What can be done for kidney stones?
- What are the first signs of kidney stones?
- Kidney stone symptoms.
- Kidney stone treatment at home.
What causes kidney stone
Kidney stone causes and risk factors are commonly known to be related to both genetic and environmental factors (6). Below are the most common causes of kidney stone that may increase the risk you get kidney stones:
(Click on the links to learn more).
- Diet especially diet high in salt, sugars or protein.
- Medical conditions.
- Excess vitamin D.
- Calcium supplements.
- Kidney stones in children.
- Kidney stones and genetics.
How do kidney stones happen?
Kidney stones happen when mineral crystals in the urine stick together into a stone form. A healthy normal urine environment doesn’t usually allow mineral crystals to stick. Certain conditions however, may create a problematic environment in the kidneys and urinary tract that can cause kidney stones to develop. About 8 out of 10 people with kidney stones have calcium stones (1).
Kidney stones are also known as: renal stones, nephrolithiasis, nephrolith, renal calculus.
What can be done for kidney stones?
When it comes to kidney stone treatment, it is always best to consult your doctor. Identifying what causes kidney stone in your body and the types of kidney stones you may have may affect the treatment approach you need to dissolve the stones, and also to prevent kidney stones. Common treatment for kidney stones may include pain management with pain relief medication, medicine to break up kidney stones, and ESWL also known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. Other more complicated cases of kidney stones may require surgery.
Kidney stone treatment at home
Kidney stone treatment at home is very common especially for more mild kidney stone symptoms. Natural home remedies for kidney stones are commonly used as a natural way to prevent, dissolve, remove and pass kidney stones.
When using natural remedies for kidney stones, it is essential to make sure the entire renal and urinary system function properly. This is very important. Once the kidney stones are dissolved, you want your body to flush them out effectively in the urine so they won’t get stuck. For this reason, a common best practice is to combine multiple kidney stones herbs or remedies that in addition to help softening and dissolving the kidney stones, can also support normal urinary, bladder and kidney function.
To learn more about natural home remedies for kidney stones, see: natural remedies for kidney stones.
What causes kidney stones in adults?
Below are the most common causes of kidney stones in adults. To get back to the main table of causes, click on the orange arrow on the right bottom part of your screen.
Can dehydration cause kidney stones?
Dehydration and not drinking enough water is one of the most common causes of kidney stones and a known risk factor for developing kidney stones. When you don’t drink enough water, your urine may become too concentrated, increasing the risk of urinary saturation of stone-forming salts and mineral crystals in the urine sticking together and form a stone. This is the most common cause of kidney stones. Making sure you are well hydrated is especially important if you live in warm climates, physically active or sweat a lot. Studies have documented the association between increased environmental temperatures and increased kidney stone rates (5).
The bottom line: A high intake of fluids, especially water, is still the most powerful and certainly the most economical means of prevention of kidney stones (12).
Kidney stones and diarrhea
The connection between kidney stones and diarrhea, especially chronic or severe diarrhea is very important: diarrhea can cause dehydration, which can make the urine become too concentrated or too acidic, therefore, increasing the risk of kidney stones.
Diet: salt, sugar, protein and kidney stones
A diet high in sodium, sugars and animal protein has been suggested by the medical literature as a known risk factor for kidney stones (2).
- Kidney stones sugar: sugars, especially fructose intake was suggested by research data to be independently associated with a higher risk of kidney stones. Fructose intake can increase the urinary excretion of calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and other factors associated with a higher kidney stone risk (4).
- Protein kidney stones: high protein diet, especially high animal protein diet was found to boost urinary excretion of oxalate, a compound that combines with calcium and other compounds to form kidney stones. A published human study found that six weeks on a low carbohydrate, high protein diet increased the acid load to the kidneys, raising the risk of kidney stones (11).
- Obesity, weight gain and kidney stones: larger body size may increase urinary excretion of calcium, oxalate, and uric acid, all known factors for increasing the risk of calcium kidney stones (3).
Medical conditions that can cause kidney stones
Certain medical conditions may be related to impaired kidney function and kidney stones issues. Common examples are chronic kidney disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and the metabolic syndrome.
Other medical conditions that are shown as related to kidney stones may include:
- Urinary tract infection (UTI).
- Hypercalciuria or hypercalciuria: elevated calcium in the urine (7).
- Renal tubular acidosis which causes acidic urine.
- Cystinuria which causes high concentrations of the amino acid cystine in the urine, leading to the formation of cystine stones.
- Primary hyperparathyroidism is a disorder of one or more of the parathyroid glands (13).
- Gastric bypass surgery has been linked to calcium oxalate kidney stone disease through mechanisms of hyperoxaluria (excessive urinary excretion of oxalate), low urine volume, and hypocitraturia (low urinary excretion of citrate) (17).
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is typically accompanied by diarrhea and malabsorption, both of which are known risk factors for formation of kidney stones (18).
- Crohn’s disease from ileocolonic disease type (18).
- Ulcerative colitis (18).
Medications that cause kidney stones
Some medications can cause kidney stones or increase the risk of developing kidney stones by leading to metabolic abnormalities that facilitate the formation of stones. According to the medical literature, drugs and medications that cause kidney stones induce (19):
- Loop diuretics.
- Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors.
- Laxatives abuse.
Correcting the abnormality may eliminate or decrease the risk of developing kidney stones.
What drugs can cause kidney stones?
Some drugs can cause kidney stones by crystallization. In these cases, the drug itself can crystallize and becomes the primary component of the stones. Drugs that can cause kidney stones may include (19):
- Magnesium trisilicate.
- Sulfa medications.
- Ephedrine, alone or in combination with guaifenesin.
When this situation occurs, discontinuation of the medication is usually necessary.
Can kidney stones cause uti?
Kidney stones can cause UTI. Kidney stones of metabolic origin can cause obstruction in the ureter and lead to the development of urinary tract infection (14).
This relationship between urinary stones and UTI is well known and is mentioned in the medical literature as (15):
- kidney stones that develop following UTI.
- kidney stones that get complicated by UTI.
In other words, kidney stones can increase the risk of UTI, or making an existing UTI become worse.
Vitamin d and kidney stones
The connection between vitamin d and kidney stones has been evaluated in many published studies. According to research, vitamin D levels were significantly higher in kidney stone patients compared to healthy adults (9). On the other hand, vitamin D intake in typical amounts was not statistically associated with risk of kidney stone formation (8).
The bottom line: vitamin D is an important vitamin that plays a key role in many body functions. Research data suggests that 50% of Americans have vitamin D deficiency (10). For this reason, it is very important to make sure you are not deficient in vitamin D. If you are at a risk of developing kidney stones, you may want to consult your doctor in order to determine the exact amount of vitamin D you need.
To learn more about the importance of vitamin D to a healthy immune system, risks of vitamin D deficiency and the best ways to get vitamin D, see: Vitamin D and your immune system.
Calcium supplements and kidney stones
The connection between calcium supplements and kidney stones is somewhat controversial. There were some concerns that calcium supplements can cause kidney stones, although most of the studies show no increase in stone risk with high calcium intake. In fact, some evidence suggests the opposite, where calcium intake is shown to lower the risk of developing kidney stones.(20). Furthermore, according to the medical literature, a diet too low in calcium can actually increase the risk of getting calcium stones (1).
The general recommendation is to maintain moderate dietary calcium intake, and when needed take calcium supplements with a meal. If you are at risk of developing kidney stones, you should consult your doctor in order to monitor the calcium levels and the related kidney stones parameters (21).
Kidney stones in children and genetics
According to the medical literature, hereditary causes of kidney stones and chronic kidney disease are not common although they should always be considered as potential causes of kidney stone disease or chronic kidney disease in children, especially in cases of Adenine phosphoribosyltransferase deficiency, cystinuria, dent disease, familial hypomagnesemia with hypercalciuria and nephrocalcinosis and primary hyperoxaluria.
Kidney stone symptoms
Common kidney stone symptoms may include urinary tract symptoms (22):
- Kidney stone pain: most commonly described as kidney stone pain that comes and goes.
- Kidney stone location: loin to groin pain or renal pain, including back, sides, kidney stone pain in front abdomen, lower or general abdomen pain.
- Blood in urine: (haematuria) that you can see, or microscopic blood in urine seen during urine tests for kidney stones.
- Painful urination (dysuria). Burning during urination is also very common.
- Increased urgency to urinate.
- Cloudy urine or unusual urine smell.
In many cases, signs of kidney stones also include systemic symptoms:
- Nausea, vomiting or both.
- Fever and chills: usually occur when there is a kidney or urinary tract infection.
What are the first signs of kidney stones?
Identifying the early signs of kidney stones is very important. It may be easier to pass the stone, and also in order to prevent complications such as kidney or urinary tract infections and the forming of larger kidney stones that may be harder to pass.
Common kidney stone early symptoms may include:
- Painful urination, often with burning.
- Frequent urination, urgent need to go.
- Sudden, severe waves of pain in the back, lower back, belly, sides, front, lower abdomen pain or general abdominal pain.
- Blood in the urine (hematuria).
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Cloudy or smelly urine.
- Fever and chills are usually a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney infection.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine – Renal Calculi (Kidney Stones) (1).
- The Journal of Clinical Investigation – Kidney stone disease (2).
- Obesity, weight gain, and the risk of kidney stones (3).
- Fructose consumption and the risk of kidney stones (4).
- Climate-related increase in the prevalence of urolithiasis in the United States (5).
- Kidney Stones: A Global Picture of Prevalence, Incidence, and Associated Risk Factors (6).
- Kidney Stones 2012: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Management (7).
- Vitamin D Intake and the Risk of Incident Kidney Stones (8).
- Association between serum vitamin D levels and the risk of kidney stone: evidence from a meta-analysis (9).
- Vitamin D deficiency (10).
- High protein diet brings risk of kidney stones (11).
- Urine volume: stone risk factor and preventive measure (12).
- Renal manifestations of primary hyperparathyroidism (13).
- Management of urinary tract infections associated with nephrolithiasis (14).
- Stones and urinary tract infections (15).
- Hereditary Causes of Kidney Stones and Chronic Kidney Disease (16).
- Kidney stone risk following Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery (17).
- Nephrolithiasis in patients with inflammatory bowel disease in the community (18).
- Drug-Induced Urinary Calculi (19).
- Calcium supplementation and incident kidney stone risk: a systematic review (20).
- Calcium intake and urinary stone disease (21).
- British Medical Journal – Clinical review of kidney stones (22).