The kidneys are bean shaped organ that are located midway down your back, just below the rib cage on either side of the spine. Each kidney is about the size of your fist. Essentially, kidneys are trash collectors and process approximately 200 quarts of blood each day. The waste and extra water in your body becomes urine that you create through your bladder.
The waste material in your blood comes from the normal breakdown of muscle and metabolism of foods. After the body has used what is needed, of the wastes are sent to the blood where the kidney removed them. Kidneys are also used to help control blood pressure and produce blood cells.
A kidney stone is a solid piece of material that forms from the waste material in the urine. This mass develops from crystals that separate from the urine within the urinary tract. Normally, an individual’s urine contains chemicals that prevents these crystals from forming but, these inhibitors do not work for everyone so some individuals are at a greater risk for developing kidney stones.
If the stones remain tiny they will pass out of the body without being noticed. However, more likely is that these stones will get stuck along the path out of the body and cause significant pain and discomfort. Doctors know that the number of people who suffer from kidney stones has been increasing for the past 30 years, but the reason for this has remained unclear. Caucasians are more prone to kidney stones than those of African-American descent. Doctors also know that once a person has more than one stone, more stones are likely to develop.
Painful as kidney stones are, they cause no permanent damage and medical intervention, apart from medication for pain, is usually unnecessary. However, it is important to find out the type of kidney stone and why it developed in order to focus treatment on prevention of further stones. Sometimes, making small lifestyle changes, such as drinking more water or are changing the diet, can prevent further stones from developing.
There are actually four different types of kidney stones all of which form differently and are usually treated differently. A kidney stone that forms in the kidney may break loose and travel down the urinary tract. It is this traveling that causes pain where it may get stuck in the ureter, the bladder or the urethra.
The most common type of stone is formed from calcium. Calcium is a mineral normally used in the body to produce strong bones and healthy muscles. Calcium that is not used goes to the kidneys for excretion. The most common combination of calcium with other waste products is called calcium oxalate.
A struvite stone can form in the kidneys after infection in the urinary tract system. These stones contain a mineral magnesium and the waste product ammonia. Struvite stones are found more often in women and can be large enough to fill most of the kidneys urine collecting space.
Uric acid stones are a byproduct of protein metabolism. Individuals who are on a high protein diet are more likely to develop this type of kidney stone. People who suffer from Gout are also more likely to develop uric acid stones. Individuals who have difficulty with this type of kidney stone may be able to prevent some formation by cutting back on the amount of meat in their diets.
The last type of kidney stone is rather rare. Cystine stones are made out of cystine which is one of the building blocks of muscle, nerves and other body parts. These form in people who have a hereditary disorder which causes the kidney to excrete excessive amounts of this amino acid. Individuals who suffer from cystine stones may find there is no good preventative methods to stop further stones from forming.
While kidney stones are excruciatingly painful they rarely, if ever, leave any permanent damage to the body. With current pain medication and advances in medical treatments, individuals often don’t suffer as much as they did just five or 10 years ago.
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse: What I need to Know about Kidney Stones
National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinhouse: Kidney Stones in Adults
MayoClinic: Kidney Stones
National Kidney Foundation: Kidney Stones
Kidney Health: What are Kidney Stones?