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Here’s info about a condition that sends more than a half million people to the ER each year.

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If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, it’s not an experience you’ll likely soon forget. Passing kidney stones can be quite painful. But the good news is that they usually don’t cause any permanent damage. Why do some people get kidney stones and others don’t? And what causes them?

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about this condition.

What causes kidney stones?

Kidney stones are made up of deposits that form inside your kidneys from excess minerals, salts or chemicals in the urine. These can crystallize and stick together, forming a solid “stone” that gets larger unless it is passed out of your body in your urine. Kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pebble.

“Kidney stones may be tiny but can cause really big pain.  Seek care and call your doctor if you are having symptoms. Remember, it is important to stay hydrated.  Drink that water!” 

-Jewel W. Crockett, MD, Internal Medicine

Anyone can get a kidney stone, but you may be more likely to have them if:

      • You’re male
      • You’re overweight or obese
      • You have a personal or family history of kidney stones
      • You don’t drink enough water
      • Your diet is high in protein, sodium and/or sugar
      • You exercise too much or too little
      • You take diuretics or calcium-based antacids
      • You have polycystic kidney disease
      • You’ve had weight loss surgery

How do you know if you have a kidney stone?

A kidney stone may get stuck in your urinary tract, especially in the ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys and bladder). If this happens, it can cause severe pain and a back-up of urine. Pain may be felt in the lower back or side and may radiate to the lower abdomen or groin. It may come in waves, shift locations and fluctuate in intensity as the stone moves through your urinary tract. Pain may be accompanied by nausea and vomiting. You may also have pain or burning when urinating, feel the need to urinate more often or have difficulty urinating. Your urine may be pink, red or brown (due to blood in your urine), cloudy or foul-smelling. If you have an infection, you may also have fever and chills.

What happens if you have a kidney stone?

Some kidney stones are so small they pass without you even knowing you had them. Treatment for kidney stones that cause symptoms may depend on the size of the stone, what it is made of and whether it is blocking your urinary tract. If the stone is small, you may only need to drink plenty of fluids to pass it in your urine. You may also need pain medication until it passes because it can be painful. If the stone is larger, you may need a treatment that breaks the stone into smaller pieces using a laser or shock waves so it’s easier to pass. If the stone causes an infection or is lodged in the urinary tract and doesn’t move no matter what else is tried, you may need surgery, although this is not very common.


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Date Last Reviewed: January 14, 2022

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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