Urinary stones: Causes, symptoms and therapy
Crystals in the body: Everything about urinary stones
Urinary stones are a common condition: About one in 20 Germans is affected at least once in their lives. They often go unnoticed for a long time and can suddenly become noticeable through painful colic and inflammation. In this article you will learn how urinary stones develop, how they are diagnosed and what treatment options are available.
What are urinary stones?
Urinary stones are crystalline deposits that can occur in the bladder, ureters or kidney. The stones, also called uroliths, are formed from substances contained in urine. These include calcium, oxalate, cystine, uric acid and phosphate. If these substances are not flushed out as usual, they can form crystals. This can happen, for example, if the urine has a particularly high concentration of these substances. The deposits can be very small - this is sometimes referred to as "kidney gravel". However, they can also grow to a size of several centimetres.
What types of urinary stones are there?
Depending on where in the urinary tract the stones are found, a distinction is made between kidney stones, ureteral stones and bladder stones. In addition to their localization, the deposits can also be differentiated according to their composition: About 80-85% of all urinary stones consist mainly of calcium oxalates. In addition, stones consisting of uric acid or calcium phosphates occur in about 10 percent of cases. Less common are specimens consisting of magnesium-ammonium-phosphate or cystine. However, many urinary stones are mixed forms that contain different components.
Urinary stones: How do they develop?
The causes of urinary stones cannot always be clearly identified. It seems that there are people who have a predisposition for the formation of the crystals, especially if there are already urinary stone diseases in the family. However, there are a number of other risk factors that favour the formation of urinary stones. These include:
- lack of exercise
- too little intake of fluids
- diseases such as gout, high blood pressure and diabetes mellitus
- congenital metabolic diseases, especially cystinuria
- urethral contractions
- nutrition rich in protein and oxalic acid
- urinary tract infections
In addition, men suffer from urinary stones about twice as often as women. The typical age of onset of the disease is between 25 and 50 years. Children are only rarely affected.
What symptoms cause urinary stones?
Urinary stones can often remain unnoticed for a long time. Sometimes they are discovered by chance during a medical examination. If symptoms occur, they can vary greatly in severity: If the symptoms are mild, there is a slight pulling in the groin or kidney area. Smaller urinary stones can also become noticeable by a slight prick when urinating.
If larger stones migrate into the ureter, this often causes sudden, very severe pain. This is then called a colic. This can be accompanied by nausea and vomiting, blood in the urine, fever and chills, and problems while urinating. If you experience acute, severe pain in the abdomen, stomach or back, you should always consult a doctor.
How are urinary stones diagnosed?
If urinary stones are suspected, there are several examination methods available to the doctor to confirm the diagnosis:
- First of all, a urine sample is usually examined: small crystals and an increased number of red blood cells can indicate the presence of urinary stones.
- An accompanying blood test provides information about inflammation values, kidney function and possible concomitant diseases that are suspected of promoting urinary stones.
- Finally, imaging techniques play an important role in the diagnosis of urinary stones: An uncomplicated ultrasound examination can already detect many stones.
- However, sometimes this is not enough to make a reliable diagnosis. In such cases, an X-ray examination, in which the patient is given a special contrast medium in advance, can be useful. In this so-called excretory urography, the path of the urine through the urinary tract and any blockages can be made visible.
Occasionally, a CT scan is also carried out, in which the position and size of the stones can be examined very closely.
How can urinary stones be treated?
Urinary stones, which are only a few millimetres in size, are often excreted by themselves with the urine after some time. A sufficient amount of drinking is conducive to this. In the case of larger or particularly stubborn deposits, however, it is often necessary to provide additional help. Drugs such as Blemaren® N can help dissolve the stones. They change the pH value of the urine so that certain types of urinary stones are broken down more easily. They can also help to prevent the formation of new urinary stones, which usually have a high risk of recurrence. If these measures are not sufficient and the stones are very large and may already be causing colic, they must be removed by a doctor. This is done, for example, by means of shock wave therapy, in which the crystals are shattered with the help of sound waves, or by means of an endoscopic procedure.
How can the formation of urinary stones be prevented?
Anyone who has once suffered from urinary stones has a relatively high risk of being affected by the unpleasant deposits again. However, if the stones are not the cause of the disease, changes in lifestyle can help to prevent a recurrence:
- Drinking: A fluid intake of 2 to 2.5 litres per day, preferably water, reduces the risk of urinary stones.
- Nutrition: Foods rich in oxalic acid favour the development of urinary stones. Oxalic acid is found more abundantly in certain vegetables and cereals, such as rhubarb, spinach, beetroot and amaranth. These foods should be eaten sparingly if you have a tendency to urinary stones. A protein-rich diet should also be avoided.
- Exercise: Regular exercise facilitates the removal of small crystals, so that they do not easily develop into larger deposits.
If the tendency to urinary stones is due to illness or runs in the family, special preparations for prevention can be used in addition to the measures mentioned above. These contain, for example, citric acid or sodium citrate, which effectively counteract the formation of calcium crystals in the urine.
Problems with urination: Which diseases are behind it?
The urinary system is a single functional biological unit. It includes the kidneys, the elimination organs that remove metabolic waste products from the body – i.e., produce urine – and regulate the essential water and electrolyte balance at the same time. New urine that is produced in the renal corpuscles (medical: nephrons) collects in the renal bed and flows to the bladder via the ureter. The bladder is used for storage. Once it is filled with a certain amount, the "urge to urinate" is signalled, which leads to excretion of the urine through the urethra. This mechanism of urine excretion (medical: miction) is a controlled and automatic process in healthy people. Physiological urine is practically germ-free, slightly acidic to neutral, and transports the excretory products in solubilised form. If these finely tuned conditions change, urological symptoms result that can appear in acute or asymptomatic (latent) forms. External factors can also be responsible, such as pathogens that have entered the urethra and trigger acute inflammation, or other factors, such as changes in metabolic activities or prostate growth.
Many of the observed symptoms are due to disorders in the natural urine flow or urination that doctors often diagnose as urinary tract infections or bladder infections (caused by infections or non-infectious conditions), dysuric complaints (uncomfortable or painful urination), or pain caused by benign prostate enlargement. Urinary stones are another very common cause of the disease process (medical: urolithiasis). Many urologists therefore classify urinary stones as a widespread disease. Hyperacidification of the urine plays a central control in their formation. It results from an oversaturation of the minerals (electrolytes) that are normally solubilised in the urine. Often stones form slowly and unnoticed when small crystals ("gravel") first form that can gradually grow to become larger stones.
Treatment of urinary problems with medication
The specialist term "urologics" describes a group of diverse medicines that have one thing in common. They are used to treat "urologic" diseases and pain, i.e., in the broadest sense disorders of the urinary system.
If you are a patient or interested, you can find information about symptoms and causes of bladder Infections and treatment with plant-based medicine here.
You can find information about urinary stones, prevention, development, causes and treatment with medication here.