Questions and Answers About Kidney Stone Management
More than a million Americans are hospitalized each year for the treatment of stones. Kidney stones are most prevalent in people age 20 to 50, are more common in men, and are most prevalent in Caucasians. Roughly 2 to 5 percent of the general population suffers from stones, and patients generally face a 75 percent chance of recurrence without intervention. Most stones are formed and excreted singly. Kidney stones come in virtually any color, though most are yellow to brown. They also come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The composition of the stone may tell something about how it is formed.
Q. What is a kidney stone?
A. A kidney stone--or renal calculus--is a hard mass of mineral matter that is large enough to block the flow of urine from the kidney. This blockage will often occur in the kidney's drainage tube (the ureter) and cause pain. Over time, obstructing stones can also result in significant kidney damage. Nephrolithiasis is the medical term for the presence of stones in the kidney. Kidney stones are composed of various salts or mineral crystal deposits and form on the inner surfaces of the kidney. The formation of kidney stones is actually a disease process, which occurs gradually over time.
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Q. What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
A. Significant pain is usually the first symptom of a kidney stone. When a stone moves from the kidney into the ureter, pain can develop suddenly. If the stone is too large to pass easily, the severe, constant pain continues as the muscles in the walls of the ureter try to squeeze the stone along into the bladder. Sometimes there is blood in the urine, or a burning sensation occurs during urination. Occasionally, an increased frequency of urination can also indicate the presence of kidney stones.
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Q. How are kidney stones diagnosed?
A. Kidney stones are typically diagnosed by X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound examination. The existence of a kidney stone is often first suspected by the presence of abdominal or flank pain. However, "silent" kidney stones--those that do not cause pain--may also be suspected during regular medical examination, such as by the presence of microscopic blood in the urine.
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