What Causes Kidney Stones

Painful, prevalent and persistent, kidney stones are hard mineral deposits that build up inside the kidneys and are expelled out of the body. This is a very common issue for many Americans, but why do you get kidney stones, and what can individuals do to prevent them? This guide to kidney stones and prevention can illuminate questions like “How do kidney stones form?” and “Am I at risk for stones?” If you think you are at high risk or may be experiencing some symptoms, connect with the Atlanta Kidney Stone Center to schedule a treatment.

Symptoms and Causes of Kidney Stones

What causes kidney stones?

Here are just a few of the many different risk factors associated with kidney stones:

  • Chronic dehydration and overall lack of urine can increase the risk of stones. Generally, your urine should appear to be pale yellow rather than dark. Individuals should typically aim to drink at minimum about eight to ten cups per day to have the normal amount of hydration and urine.
  • High oxalate content in your diet. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance that appears in many types of foods, such as spinach, beans, beer, cranberries, coffee, tea, rhubarb, grits and certain bran cereals, among many others.
  • High sodium content in your diet also affects the creation of stones, mainly via table salt. A doctor may recommend lowering your sodium intake if you’re at high risk for stones.
  • Excessive amounts of red meat and shellfish can affect something called uric acid, which is another, different type of kidney stone that can appear in the body.
  • Obesity and general weight gain is linked with a higher risk of stones.
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (IBS), Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and chronic diarrhea can cause issues that lead to less urine or extra oxalate.
  • Urinary tract infections can lead to struvite stones, a different form of kidney stone.
  • Family history and genetics play a role in whether you’re more likely to develop stones.
  • Having kidney stones in the past increases the risk of the formation to new kidney stones.
  • Certain medications may increase your risk of stones, like calcium-based antacids. Migraine medications many also have stones as a side effect. Be sure to look at the side effects of medications you’re taking and talk with your doctor; do not attempt to stop a medication without consulting your doctor first.
  • Certain dietary supplements may increase your risk, such as calcium supplements in men and certain vitamin C supplements in both men and women. Do not stop taking these supplements without guidance from your doctor.
  • Issues with your parathyroid glands can affect your metabolism as well as the amount of calcium in your blood.
  • Type II diabetes can make urine more acidic and affect your kidneys.
  • Gout leads to an increase in uric acid, which can create particularly painful stones.
  • Polycystic kidney disease and other diseases of the kidney may lead to stones.
  • Specific genetic diseases like cystinuria can lead to stones. Cystinuria causes more cystine to appear in the urine and may lead to the formation of cystine stones, often earlier in life. Similarly, xanthinuria causes the very rare xanthine stones.

To lower your risk of kidney stones, it’s recommended to drink enough fluids, avoid high oxalate foods, cut down on excess sodium and control your weight. It’s also recommended to be aware of any potential side effects of your current medications or supplements.

What causes kidney stones in men?

Since men are almost twice as likely to form kidney stones than women, most of the causes on our list (such as dehydration, diet, and family history) affect men. One difference between the sexes, however, relates to calcium supplements: A Harvard study of 45,619 men revealed that a normal amount of calcium in men’s diets (from milk, yogurt, broccoli, or other food sources) did not affect the formation of stones, but those that took calcium supplements had a higher risk.

What causes kidney stones in women?

For many years, the stereotype was that kidney stones were common among older men, but there has been an increase in prevalence in kidney stones in women in recent years. Today, dietary changes, obesity, diabetes and chronic dehydration are all risk factors for women, who experience about 38% of cases. Calcium supplements are not as much of a risk for women for forming kidney stones as they are for men.

What are kidney stones made of?

Most kidney stones are made of calcium and oxalate, but some stones are made from a combination of other materials, like uric acid, phosphate, cystine, ammonia and xanthine.

These are the several different types of kidney stones, which can affect how kidney stones are formed and what they’re made of:

  • Calcium Oxalate Stones (calcium and oxalate)
  • Calcium Phosphate Stones (calcium and phosphate)
  • Uric Acid Stones (uric acid)
  • Struvite Stones (calcium, ammonia, and phosphate)
  • Cystine Stones (cystine)
  • Xanthine Stones (xanthine)
  • Other Stones (other, medicine induced compositions like ephedrine, indinavir, etc.)

Reportedly, 70% of all stones are calcium oxalate stones, with less than 1% being cystine and medication-induced stones.

Can stress cause kidney stones?

Especially when combined with chronic dehydration, stress can trigger the formation of kidney stones. Stress overall can affect your kidneys. Stress can result in high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which can both affect the health of your heart and the kidneys.

How fast do kidney stones grow?

This may be surprising, but it’s not fast at all. A kidney stone typically forms slowly over the course of months or even years. It’s usually at least a few months before the person with the kidney stone experiences pain or other symptoms.

What causes kidney stone pain?

Pain typically is a result of stones moving from the kidney out of the body. Stones can get trapped in tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder, which are called the ureters. After leaving the bladder, stones then typically need to pass through the urinary tract, which can also be quite painful. Typically, “passing” a kidney stone involves the stone moving along those relatively delicate tubes. Stones often block the flow of urine, causing a great deal of pain or even hematuria (blood in the urine). The level of pain can often depend on the type, size, shape, location, and number of stones, which may be considered when deciding whether or not to choose surgery.

Schedule an appointment with us if you are worried that you’re at high risk of kidney stones or if you think you may be experiencing some of the symptoms.



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