Excruciating Kidney Stone Pain: The Real Cause May Surprise You

Every year nearly 200,000 adults get admitted to the hospital with a kidney stone diagnosis, many of them after showing up at an Emergency Room in excruciating pain. But the real cause of this pain is not from a stone itself, but the build-up of urine in the kidney that results from blockage. Here’s a quick review of kidney stone basics, and some good news on treatment options.

Kidney Stone 101

A kidney stone is a hard object that is formed in the kidney when dissolved substances (chemicals in the urine, most commonly calcium and oxalate) are in too high of a concentration and form a solid. This solid will get larger unless it is passed out of the body with the urine, which is usually the case, however, not always.

When kidney stones are in the kidney, most people do not feel them. The problems arise when the stones drop out of the kidney into the ureter, which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. This causes blockage of urine flow, which results in urine back up into the ureter and kidney, causing both structures to swell full of urine (called hydronephrosis). And it is this stretching of the lining of the kidney that causes the severe pain and nausea that can drop people to their knees.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for kidney stone formation include genetics, dehydration, dietary factors and obesity. However, some of our very healthy young patients are also susceptible to kidney stones, particularly those who exercise frequently without re-hydrating. Furthermore, some otherwise very healthy foods, including dark leafy green vegetables and nuts, can actually increase the risk stone formation risk.

The lifetime incidence of kidney stone formation is nearly 13 percent in men and seven percent in women, and has actually increased by 70 percent over the past two decades. In particular, stones are becoming more common in young patients, including teenagers.

Once a patient forms the first kidney stone, the chances of forming another are greater than 50 percent within the next five years, and up to 80 percent within the next 10 years. In addition to the 200,000 people hospitalized each year from kidney stones, another 3,000,000 outpatient visits per year result from this diagnosis, together costing more than $2 billion.

The goal of the Kidney Stone Center of Charleston located inside Roper Hospital is to minimize kidney stone suffering by giving patients access to prompt, convenient, comprehensive treatment for kidney stone attacks. This reduces pain and suffering and expense from multiple ER and doctor visits. Additionally, we aim to help each patient make the changes necessary to minimize future kidney stone attacks.

Here’s a House Calls TV spot that explains more:

By Dr. Dennis Kubinski, a urologist with Charleston Urology and a Roper St. Francis Physician Partner