KIDNEY stones are one of the most painful medical conditions of them all.

Here we look at what causes them, their symptoms and how they are treated.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are masses made of salt and minerals, and can be anywhere between a grain of salt and a golf ball in size.

There are several different types, calcium stones, struvite stones, uric acid stones and cystine stones.

How painful are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are incredibly painful, with many sufferers claiming that the experience is one they will never forget.

The stones have potential to cause severe pain, and while most pass on their own through the ureter – the tube between the kidney and the bladder – some require to be medically removed with surgery.

People are advised to seek medical help if they experience pain so severe that they can't sit still or find a comfortable position and/or pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting.

They are also urged to seek advice if they have pain accompanied by fever and chills, blood in their urine and difficulty passing urine.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain on urination
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present
  • Urinating small amounts

Source: Mayo Clinic

Who is most at risk of kidney stones?

  • If there is a history of kidney stones in your family you are more at risk of developing stones too. If you have had them before, there is also a chance you will suffer from them again.
  • Dehydration can increase the risk of getting them.
  • Eating a diet high in protein, salt and sugar can increase your risk of some types of kidney stones. People who eat a lot of salt are especially at risk.
  • Being obese, having sudden weight gain or a large BMI are linked to an increased risk of kidney stones.
  • Gastric bypass surgery, IBD and diarrhea can affect your absorption of calcium and water and increase the amount of stone-forming minerals in your urine.
  • O diseases and conditions that may increase your risk of kidney stones include renal tubular acidosis, cystinuria, hyperparathyroidism, urinary tract infections and certain medications.

Source: Mayo Clinic

How are kidney stones treated?

If your GP suspects you have a kidney stone, you may be given a blood test which will identify calcium and uric acid levels in your body.

You will also be given a urine test, maybe even over two consecutive days.

There will also be imaging, done with x-rays or or a CT scan.

Smaller stones can be passed by drinking water, and your GP might also give you painkillers or a special medicine known as an alpha blocker which relaxes the muscles in your ureter to help the stone pass quicker and with less pain.

Larger stones can be destroyed with sound waves known as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), surgery, or a procedure to break up the stone with a gadget called a uretoscope.

Some stones are caused by overactive parathyroid glands which are located on the four corners of your thyroid gland, which requires a different course of treatment.

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