Kidney stones are fairly common and affect around one in 10 people in the UK. They typically affect people aged between 30 and 60 and can develop in one or both kidneys.
Kidney stones are made of minerals and salts that collect in your kidneys as crystals and form hard deposits — the type of kidney stones you have is determined by the type of crystals they’re made of. Kidney stones can affect any part of your urinary tract and often form when urine becomes concentrated, which allows minerals to form crystals.
While most kidney stones are small — about the size of a grain of sand — and can be passed out in your urine without you noticing, they can become larger. If a kidney stone is fairly big, it can cause pain when you are passing it or it can get stuck, which leads to complications.
Kidney stones are caused by waste products collecting in the kidneys and forming crystals. These crystals can build up into a lump similar to a stone. While this can happen to anyone, some factors mean you’re more likely to develop kidney stones, including:
You’re also at greater risk of kidney stones if your diet is high in salt, protein or glucose, which is why it is important to maintain a balanced diet if you have a history of kidney stones.
Small kidney stones often don’t cause any symptoms and you’re unlikely to notice them as they pass out of your body. However, if kidney stones get to be a few millimetres or even centimetres big, they can cause symptoms as your body tries to pass them out.
Symptoms of larger kidney stones can include:
The pain caused by large kidney stones is severe and can radiate from the side of the abdomen and/or back down to your groin.
While most kidney stones will pass on their own, you should see your GP if any of your symptoms are concerning you.
Larger kidney stones can get stuck, which can lead to complications and the following symptoms:
In these cases, you should seek immediate medical attention.
In some cases, your GP can diagnose kidney stones based on your symptoms and medical history.
However, you may also need to undergo tests to check for kidney stones and also to make sure your kidneys are functioning properly. Tests can include:
The type of treatment you’ll receive for kidney stones will depend on the type of stones you have. If you have recurrent kidney stones, their composition will be tested so that your doctor can prescribe the most effective treatment.
Treatment for kidney stones can include:
If you have had kidney stones once, you are more likely to get them again, so it is important to take steps to reduce the chances of them forming.
You can tell if you’re staying hydrated enough by the colour of your urine. Ideally, your urine should be light in colour. If it is dark, it means it is more concentrated, which increases the chances of crystals and then stones forming.
Depending on the type of stones you have, your GP may also suggest altering your diet to cut down on certain foods.
Looking after your kidneys not only helps reduce your chances of kidney stones, it’s also important for your overall health and wellbeing. Keeping your kidneys healthy means they can function correctly, filtering waste and producing hormones your body needs.
You can take care of your kidneys by:
You should also try not to take too many non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen or naproxen. Taking these too regularly can lead to kidney damage. If you’re concerned about how often you’re taking NSAIDs, speak to your GP.
If you're concerned about symptoms you're experiencing or require further information on the subject, talk to a GP or see an expert consultant at your local Spire hospital.
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Lux Fatimathas, Editor and Project Manager
Lux has a BSc(Hons) in Neuroscience from UCL, a PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology from the UCL Institute of Ophthalmology and experience as a postdoctoral researcher in developmental biology. She has a clear and extensive understanding of the biological and medical sciences. Having worked in scientific publishing for BioMed Central and as a writer for the UK’s Medical Research Council and the National University of Singapore, she is able to clearly communicate complex concepts.
Catriona Shaw, Lead Editor
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Alfie Jones, Director — Cahoot Care Marketing
Alfie has a creative writing degree from UCF and initially worked as a carer before supporting his family’s care training business with copywriting and general marketing. He has worked in content marketing and the care sector for over 10 years and overseen a diverse range of care content projects, building a strong team of specialist writers and marketing creatives after founding Cahoot in 2016.