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metabolic or hormonal disorders). Tose comprised of uric acid—a by-product of digesting meat—account for about 10% of stones. Tese are the only type that can be dissolved with medication. Doctors can prescribe potassium citrate or sodium bicarbonate to help neutralize the acid.

Stone Cold Facts


By Herbert James, MD Board-Certified Urologist

idney stones have bothered humans for a very long time. When examined by scientists a 7,000-year-old mummy showed evidence that ancient Egyptians suffered from this

complaint. But what are kidney stones? Your doctor might refer to them as “calculi” or to the condition as “renal stone disease.” These Latin-based names are clues as to what they are (a stone—or “calculus” in Latin—made from mineral deposits) and where they form (“renes” is Latin for “kidneys”).

Normally, your kidneys filter waste from your blood, producing urine that passes through a narrow tube (the “ureter”) and into your bladder. Sometimes, minerals from food and drink don’t stay completely dissolved in the kidneys. Tese minerals can stick together to form stones. Often, kidney stones are tiny and have no trouble passing through the ureter, despite its mere 2-mm diameter at the bladder. But larger stones can become stuck in this tube, causing severe pain.


If a stone is small enough to pass on its own (most are), the average time it takes to pass is between one and four weeks. Larger stones that have become stuck probably will need medical attention.

Tere are several kinds of stones, made from different chemicals that signal different kinds of imbalances. Stones made when the body cannot eliminate excess calcium are by far the most common (some types of calcium stones are actually caused by

When it comes to kidney stone symptoms, it can be all or nothing. You may have one and never know it. So-called “silent stones” either remain in the kidney or are small enough to pass unnoticed. But if one blocks the ureter, the spasm—felt either in the lower back, belly, or groin—can be excruciating. Te severity of the pain, though, has nothing to do with the size of the stone. Accompanying symptoms include hematuria (blood in the urine), nausea, and fever.

To diagnose kidney stones, your doctor will ask you about your medical history and lifestyle habits, call for an X-ray and/ or blood tests, and perform a physical examination. Your doctor might lightly tap your skin near your kidneys to see if they are tender, a tell-tale sign.

Men are at more risk for kidney stones than women, and in men the risk is greatest between 40 and 70 years old. It appears that men of European decent have the highest incidence of stones, followed by Mexican- Americans. African-Americans are the ethnic group at least risk.

Among women, those in their 50s have the highest risk of developing stones. Young women in the late stages of pregnancy also can be prone, although their rate is still only 1 in 1,500. Pregnant women typically have a higher calcium intake and kidneys that are not functioning as well as they could be.

Tere is some evidence that a tendency toward kidney stones runs in families and that a family history of gout (also caused by excess uric acid) is a predictor. Perhaps the clearest risk factor for getting stones is if you’ve had one already. Without preventative measures, almost half of those who have had a kidney stone will get another within five years.

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