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Complex Kidney Stones

The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs that help in the removal of wastes from the body.

As the kidneys filter blood of impurities, minerals and acid salts can accumulate and harden over time. These solid crystalline deposits are called kidney stones, and can form in one or both kidneys. The stones can travel down the urinary tract and block the flow of urine, causing pain and bleeding.

Kidney stone formation is a common urinary system disorder that can form in any individual. However, men and overweight people are at a higher risk of developing them.

Causes

Kidney stones form when certain salts and minerals in the urine build up and become highly concentrated. This can happen due to

  • Insufficient water intake
  • Treatments for kidney diseases and cancer
  • Certain medications
  • Family history
  • Intestinal disease such as Crohn’s disease
  • Single functional kidney

Symptoms

Symptoms of kidney stone formation may not manifest until the stone moves down into the urinary tract. Symptoms may include:

  • Severe pain below the ribs, back, sides, lower abdomen, groin and during urination
  • Pain that fluctuates in intensity
  • Frequent urge to urinate
  • Pink, brown or red urine that is cloudy or foul smelling

You should call your doctor if you find it difficult to pass urine, or the pain increases and is accompanied with fever, chills, vomiting and nausea.

Diagnosis

When kidney stones are suspected, your doctor may order blood, urine and imaging tests (X-ray, CT scans) to diagnose the condition. You may also be asked to urinate through a sieve to collect and test the kidney stones that pass in the lab. The results will help your doctor to determine the cause and formulate an appropriate plan for treatment.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of stone and its underlying cause. Small kidney stones can be flushed out by drinking plenty of water every day or through medication. Additionally, your doctor may prescribe medication to relieve pain.

For larger stones, your doctor may suggest certain procedures based on the location and size of the kidney stones.

A non-invasive procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy may be recommended to break down large stones. Using a device called a lithotripter, high energy sound waves are passed over the area to be treated from outside the body. The shock waves vibrate and break the stones down without harming the rest of the body. The stone fragments can then easily pass out through the urine.

Sometimes, your surgeon may insert a stent or tube before or after the procedure through the bladder or the back into the kidney to hold the urinary tube open, preventing the pieces from blocking the tube.

Another alternative procedure your doctor may suggest is ureteroscopy. This can be used for stones in the urinary tract closer to the bladder. A thin lighted tube called an ureteroscope is inserted through your urinary tract opening. Once the stone is located, tiny forceps or a basket shaped instrument at the end of the scope grabs and removes the stones. Larger stones are first broken down with a laser before excision.

Sometimes, a more invasive procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy may be performed. Your surgeon will make an incision in your back under general, regional or spinal anaesthesia, and inserts a hollow tube with a probe to remove the stones directly or break them into fragments before excising them.

Prevention

Kidney stones can be prevented by making some lifestyle changes such as drinking more water, and reducing the intake of excess salt and animal proteins.

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