by Frederic Levine, MD, Urology Department Chair at Lake Health Beachwood Medical Center

What is a kidney stone?
Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals that form inside the kidney. Usually this occurs when the concentration of these minerals in the urine becomes too high. The increased concentration can be due to dietary causes, genetic factors, certain diseases or dehydration.

What are the signs and symptoms of kidney stones?
Kidney stones typically cause excruciating pain in the back, side, abdomen or groin. This is often described as one of the worst pains one can experience. This pain occurs due to the stone being caught in the ureter, the narrow tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. Additionally, this pain is often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. People with stones may also notice blood in the urine, as well as more frequent urination and an increased sense of urgency to urinate. At times, a stone may not cause pain but is diagnosed when the obstructing stone leads to a severe infection or damage to the kidney.

How is a kidney stone diagnosed?
Though the signs and symptoms usually indicate when a stone is present, radiologic studies are used to definitively diagnose a stone. A CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis is the diagnostic treatment of choice to diagnose a stone in the urinary tract. Additionally, ultrasound or plain X-rays of the abdomen can be used to determine the presence of a stone.

How are kidney stones treated?
Initially, it is important to treat the pain associated with passing a stone. This often requires very powerful medications to minimize the pain. Fluids and, on occasion, antibiotics are needed. Some stones can be treated conservatively and will pass on their own, often with the use of medications that can help to facilitate stone passage. Other stones will require intervention to remove them. Such procedures include non-invasive shockwave lithotripsy, where shock waves are aimed at stones to fragment them, or through the use of scopes and lasers placed into the urinary tract to directly break the stones. Rarely, conventional or robotic surgery is needed.

Can kidney stones be prevented?
Yes. Increasing fluids, especially water, is the primary way to decrease stone formation. In addition, dietary modifications and medications can be used to lessen the chance of new stones. Certain blood and urine tests, as well as analyzing prior stone composition, can be used to determine a treatment plan.

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At the Lake Health Beachwood Medical Center Kidney Stone Center we are uniquely able to expedite the evaluation and treatment of kidney stone patients. Understanding the pain and distress that kidney stones cause, we will fast track the initial physician evaluation and get pain medications and fluids started quickly. X-rays will be performed to confirm the presence of a stone and then a treatment plan will be created. If surgical treatment is needed, this can often be performed the same day and certainly within 24 hours.