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Kidney Stones

Kidney Stones: Frequently Asked Questions

Wednesday, April 18, 2012 - 16:32

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Here are some frequently asked questions related to kidney stones.

Q: I heard that where I live could affect whether I develop kidney stones. Is this true?

A: Kidney stones do occur more frequently in hot climates. In fact, a certain area in the southern part of the U.S. is dubbed the "stone belt" because kidney stones are so common, presumably because the weather is hotter and the stones are linked to dehydration.

Q: My doctor diagnosed a kidney stone but seems to think that it will pass by itself. How long does this usually take?

A: Most small stones pass through your body by themselves within hours or a few days. To help this process, your doctor will advise you to drink a lot of fluids and may suggest a special diet.

Q: What is the average size of a kidney stone?

A: A kidney stone is a solid lump that can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as the size of a golf ball.

Q: Is it safe to let a kidney stone go without treatment?

A: Not all kidney stones need treatment. If a stone is causing no symptoms, is not having any effect on the urinary tract, and is not likely to cause problems in the future, it may be left untreated and followed for future changes. If a stone is causing no symptoms and is small enough to probably pass by itself if it moves, it may be safely observed and not treated. However, some jobs require the worker to be free of stones (for example, airline pilots), and some people may travel to or live in remote areas where it is difficult to get medical care.

Q: When can I return to normal sexual activity after lithotripsy?

A: In general, sexual activity may be resumed when the person is feeling well enough not to need pain medication, is eating and taking liquids normally, and has no visible blood in the urine.

Q: How can I reduce the pain caused by the repetitive appearance of kidney stones?

A: This pain, which is referred to as renal colic, can be relieved with a strong pain medication. Aspirin and other over-the-counter pain remedies are ineffective. If you are experiencing pain from a kidney stone, go immediately to the nearest emergency room or walk-in medical center available so that you can receive prompt and effective therapy.

Q: Is shock-wave treatment painful?

A: This depends on the size and density of the kidney stone and the energy of the shock waves. In some cases, a person will receive an anesthetic to control pain.

Q: Do small retained fragments of kidney stones after lithotripsy increase the risk of stone recurrence?

A: Leftover stone fragments do appear to grow faster the usual stone recurrence rate. So if a person is not stone-free after lithotripsy, new stones may form quicker than they would in an untreated person.

Q: Will I require further treatment after my kidney stone is eliminated?

A: Lifetime follow-up with regular visits to your doctor are important to ensure that kidney stones are controlled and do not return or grow back. These follow-up visits may require additional x-rays, blood tests, or urine analysis.

Q: How important is diet in preventing recurrence of kidney stones?

A: The most important thing you can do to prevent kidney stones is to drink a lot of water each day - 12 eight-ounce glasses - to dilute your urine. Depending on the nature of the kidney stone, your doctor may provide you with information on avoiding certain foods that may increase your risk for stones in the future. Your doctor may suggest that you consult with a dietitian to help further reduce risk factors in your diet.

Kidney Stones