Kidney stones are collections of salt and minerals made up of calcium and uric acid. They form in the kidneys and can travel to other parts of the urinary tract. The stones vary in size: they can be as small as the dot over an i—mere millimeters—or several inches across. Stones that become too large to pass naturally may have to be removed via surgery.
How Kidney Stones Form
Kidney stones form when there’s too much of a specific kind of mineral in your body. The minerals accumulate in the urine, and when you aren’t sufficiently hydrated, the urine becomes more concentrated with higher mineral levels. These elevated mineral levels lead to a greater risk of developing kidney stones. People who are overweight or who have diabetes have a higher risk of kidney stones.
What Are the Symptoms of Kidney Stones?
Smaller stones that form and remain in the kidneys often don’t cause symptoms. Most people won’t notice symptoms until the stones move into the ureter, the tube through which urine travels to get to the bladder from the kidney. If you think you might have kidney stones, consult your doctor. They’ll be able to diagnose you through a variety of means. If you exhibit any of these symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.
Pain During Urination
Once the stone makes it to the junction between the bladder and ureter, you’ll feel pain during urination. The medical term for this pain is dysuria, and it can be sharp and burning. This pain is often mistaken for a urinary tract infection, but it’s possible to have both at the same time.
Pain in the Back, Belly, or Side
Kidney stone pain, also known as renal colic, is very severe and among the most painful things you can experience. People who have gone through it liken it to childbirth or being stabbed. You’ll feel the pain in your back, along your side, and just below the ribcage. The pain may radiate to the belly and groin areas as the stone moves down the urinary tract.
Blood in the Urine
Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is a very common symptom for people with kidney stones. The blood ranges from red to pink to brown. On occasion, the blood cells and volume may be so small that you can’t see the blood with the naked eye. Your doctor will be able to see it in a sample with a microscope.
Cloudy or Foul-Smelling Urine
Normal, healthy urine is clear and has no odor. Cloudy or foul-smelling urine is an indication that something is wrong—possibly kidney stones. You may also have an infection in the kidneys or a different part of the urinary tract. Cloudy urine means that there’s pus in it. The foul smell comes from the bacteria that causes urinary tract infections or urine that’s more concentrated than normal.