Kidney stones affect more than one million Americans each year. The kidneys are bean-shaped organs about the size of a fist, located near the middle of the spine, just below the rib cage, one on each side of the spine. The kidneys' main function is to remove excess fluid, unneeded electrolytes and wastes from the blood in the form of urine. What goes wrong when the body creates a kidney stone? And what causes kidney stones in the first place? Finally, what can you do to avoid the risk of developing a kidney stone?
What is a kidney stone?
A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms in the kidney. Kidney stones (also called "renal lithiasis") are small, hard deposits of mineral and acid salts on the inner surfaces of your kidneys. The most common type of kidney stone is made of the mineral calcium, combined with either oxalate or phosphate. Less common types of stones are made of uric acid or other chemicals, all of which are naturally found in the body.
Kidney stones may be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pearl...or even as big as golf balls. Most kidney stones pass out of the body with urine. But sometimes a stone will not pass by itself and needs a doctor's care. In fact, kidney stones can grow large enough to block the flow of urine, causing intense pain and or developing risk for infection. Although they can be painful, kidney stones rarely cause permanent damage, and you may be able to prevent them.
Types of kidney stones
A kidney stone is often categorized according to the stone's composition. Examples of different types of kidney stones include:
Calcium stones - About four out of five kidney stones are calcium stones, usually in the form of calcium oxalate. Oxalate is found in some fruits and vegetables, but is frequently produced by the liver. Diet, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery and metabolic disorders can increase levels of calcium or oxalate in the urine.
Cystine stones - These types of kidney stones form in people with a specific kind of hereditary disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete excessive amounts of certain amino acids (cystinuria).
Struvite stones - Struvite stones occur mostly in women and are almost always the result of urinary tract infections (UTIs). Struvite stones may be large enough to fill most of the kidney's urine-collecting space and can form a characteristic horn shape.
Uric acid stones - Uric acid is a by-product of protein metabolism. This is why uric acid stones can be the result of a high-protein diet. Gout also leads to uric acid stones. Genetic factors and blood producing tissue disorders may also contribute to the development of uric acid stones.
Although kidney stones are not usually serious, they can cause extreme pain. So what causes a kidney stone? And are there actions that you can take to avoid the risk of developing a kidney stone? More here on what causes kidney stones.
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