What Causes Kidney Stones?

Man struggling with kidney disease

If you’ve ever passed a kidney stone, you know the pain is immense. If you haven’t, you’re sure to have heard horror stories about kidney stones. But, what causes kidney stones, and can you do anything to prevent them?

We’ll walk you through everything you need to know about kidney stones, including how to identify if you’re experiencing one and the best tips for avoiding the experience altogether!

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones form when crystals, or small pieces of solid material, build up in the kidneys.

Kidney stones are usually made of calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. These substances build up and stick together to form crystals that can lodge themselves in the path of your urine, obstructing the flow and causing pain. Kidney stones can be anywhere in size, from a grain of sand to a golf ball. 

A kidney stone is most often painless until it moves into a larger ureter; at that point, it becomes painful because of muscle spasms around the stone and obstructs the passage of urine.

Although most people who suffer from small kidney stones do not experience any pain, it’s still important to know what can cause them and how you can avoid them moving forward. 

What Causes Kidney Stones?

Many different factors can cause kidney stones, including:

  • Dehydration
  • Obesity
  • Diet (high in oxalate or uric acid)
  • Eating an excess of salt or sugar
  • Lack of exercise

Certain foods and drinks increase your risk of developing kidney stones, including processed meats, sugary beverages, and high-oxalate foods like chocolate, spinach, and bran.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can be a very painful and traumatic experience. It’s crucial to understand the symptoms so you can recognize what may be causing your pain.

Symptoms of kidney stones can include:

  • Sharp pain in the back, side, or groin that comes and goes in waves and may be accompanied by nausea or vomiting
  • Blood in your urine
  • Pain while urinating
  • Frequent and/or urgent need to urinate
  • Feeling like you cannot fully empty your bladder
  • Fever

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s essential to see a doctor right away.

How Do You Pass a Kidney Stone?

It’s not uncommon to feel the build-up of a kidney stone, but there are things you can do about it if you’re unable to pass it on your own. The first thing you should do is contact your healthcare provider. If the stone is too big to pass on your own, your doctor may recommend other treatments, such as shock-wave lithotripsy, to break up the stone in a non-invasive way.

Doctors have many medications at their disposal to ease the pain caused by kidney stones or manage the symptoms, like nausea and vomiting. They will likely offer medication to reduce any inflammation around the ureter and relieve some of the pressure on your bladder muscles so that they don’t spasm when passing the stone through urine flow.

How to Help Prevent Kidney Stones

If you pass kidney stones at home, make sure to bring them to your doctor for analysis. If your stones were removed with a doctor’s help, they will conduct tests on the makeup of the kidney stones to determine their cause.

However, general tips for preventing kidney stones include: 

  • Drink lots of water: at least 64 ounces
  • Avoid sugary drinks
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Exercise regularly
  • Lose weight with a doctor’s guidance if necessary

If you have a family history of kidney stones, tell your doctor so they can keep an eye on your kidney health.
Most kidney stones are painless, but if you experience symptoms, it is best to seek medical help right away.

Once you know what causes kidney stones, you can take steps towards preventing future stone growth and painful episodes! If you have questions about your kidney health, contact your provider today.