Kidney stones. The very words can make one wince. They conjure up an image of a victim writhing in agony.
Actually, not all kidney stones are painful. Some are small enough to exit the urinary tract without notice. But bigger ones make their presence known upon entering the ureters (tubes that carry urine to the bladder) by causing intense pain in the side, in the back, or under the ribs.
Pain may move into the lower abdomen and the groin area. The urge to urinate may be strong, and the act excruciating. Urine may be brown, pink or red. Nausea and vomiting, fever and chills may occur.
Kidney stones consist of crystals formed from minerals and acid salts in the urine. They are often a result of not drinking enough fluids, allowing waste products to become too concentrated.
The kidneys' pH level becomes too acidic making this an environment ripe for stones. These crystals can lodge in the kidney and get bigger. A stone stuck in a ureter will block urine flow, causing the kidney to swell and pain to escalate.
People with Crohns' Disease, Dent's Disease, high blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease, and infections of the urinary tract are more prone to kidney stones.
Other conditions increasing susceptibility are hyperparathyroidism, obesity, medullary sponge kidney, and renal tubular acidosis. It is speculated that fluoridation of drinking water may also contribute.
Despite the anguish sometimes afflicted, damage from kidney stones is generally not permanent. Often stones will pass without incident, or even the awareness, of the individual passing them.
Occasionally, in the case of an especially large stone, or if infection is present, something more than pain medication is required.
A doctor may perform extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, using a machine that breaks the stone into pieces with shock waves.
Or a urologist may enter the urethra, ureters and bladder with an instrument to extract the stone, sometimes breaking it first for easier removal.
As a last resort surgery may sometimes be necessary.
Kidney stones are more common among men than women, particularly between 30 and 50 years of age.