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Kidney stones

Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. Men are more prone to kidney stones than women. A kidney stone is a hard mass made up of crystals that separate from the urine. Doctors have found four major types of stones. The most common type is made up of unused calcium and other waste products.

A stone may stay in the kidney or break loose and travel down the urinary tract. A small stone may pass all the way out of the body without causing too much pain. A larger stone may get stuck in a ureter, the bladder, or the urethra. A problem stone can block the flow of urine and cause great pain.

Most kidney stones pass out of the body without help from a doctor. But sometimes a stone will not pass. It may even get larger.

Call a doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Extreme pain in your back or side that will not go away
  • Blood in your urine making it look pink
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
  • A burning feeling when you urinate

These may be signs of a kidney stone that needs a doctor's care. Doctors have several nonsurgical ways to remove problem stones.

If the stone passes on its own, try to catch it in a strainer. Your doctor can test the stone to find out the type. After a stone has passed or been removed, your doctor may also ask for a urine sample or take blood to find out what caused your stone. You may need to collect your urine for a 24-hour period. These tests will help your doctor find ways to prevent stones in the future.

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Preventing future stones

If you have had more than one kidney stone, you have a greater chance of having even more stones. Your risk also is higher if you have a family history of kidney stones. Take these steps to prevent future stones:

  • Drink plenty of water. Try to drink enough liquids throughout the day to produce at least 2.5 quarts (more than a half a gallon) of urine in a 24-hour period.
  • Follow your doctor's orders. Your doctor may ask you to eat more of some foods or liquids and to cut back on others.
  • Take medications your doctor prescribes. Certain medicines can help prevent some types of stones.

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More information on Kidney stones

Explore other publications and websites

  • Kidney Stones in Adults - This publication features information on kidney stones, causes, who gets them, symptoms, treatments, and prevention methods.
  • What I Need to Know About Kidney Stones - This fact sheet explains how kidneys function. It also explains the formation of kidney stones and lists treatment methods.

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Content last updated: January 10, 2011.

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