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Let’s talk about kidney stones! If you have never had one, be glad. If you are wondering what all the fuss is about, this article might shed some light. Over the years, patients have compared kidney stone pain to natural childbirth or even a heart attack. This kind of pain is what I call the almighty equalizer, bringing grown men to their knees and causing adults to scream out loud in agony. What are they, and what can you do to hopefully avoid this pesky diagnosis?

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are collections of minerals and salts that form a pebble-like substance in the kidneys. These formations can be as small as a grain of salt or as large as a kernel of corn. They can be yellow or brownish in color and generally form when there is too much mineral and not enough fluid volume. One source compares it to trying to mix a powdered drink mix in not enough liquid, resulting in clumps and hard chunks. This visualization helps explain what happens inside the kidneys during stone formation.

This problem occurs more often in men, but women can present with kidney stones as well.

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

How do you know if you have kidney stones? You may not initially realize the cause of your pain. Patients often figure out pretty quickly that they need to seek emergency care. Most often, patients present to the ER with the following symptoms:

  • Significant pain in the flank (below your ribs), groin, or back, often coming in waves
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Bloody or pink-tinged urine
  • Painful urination or difficulty passing urine
  • Urinary frequency (small amounts each time)
  • Sweating

A diagnosis of kidney stones can be confirmed by the ER physician using several diagnostic examinations, including blood work, urinalysis, and a CT scan.

Treatment and Management

Treatment of pain and optimizing hydration are key elements of management in the emergency department. This allows the kidney stones to be passed through the urinary tract and out the urethra. Sometimes this process is quick, and other times it takes longer.

If the stone is not passed at the emergency room but the physician feels it will pass without additional medical intervention, at-home management may include:

  • Drinking enough water for your urine to appear almost clear in color
  • Taking over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen sodium
  • Straining urine to see if you can obtain a sample of the stone (important for patients with recurrent stones). Collect the sample in a urine collection cup and take it to the urologist if that is part of the follow-up plan.

For kidney stones that are not passing naturally due to size or location, a patient might require referral to a urologist who can perform procedures to help break down or remove the stone.

Prevention of Kidney Stones

For patients with recurrent kidney stones, a specialist can analyze the stones and determine ways to reduce the likelihood of recurrence. This often includes dietary changes based on the mineral composition of the stones. Prevention strategies include:

  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Cutting back on sodium and salty foods
  • Reducing soft drinks

When to Visit Ally Medical ER

Ally Medical ER physicians commonly take care of patients with these types of medical emergencies and are highly capable of diagnosing and managing your symptoms. If you experience severe pain or any symptoms of kidney stones, visit one of our eight locations for prompt and effective car