Nephrolithiasis : Causes, Picture, Symptoms and Treatment

Nephrolithiasis is the condition that is very common among people. Doesn’t ring a bell? It is nothing but kidney stones. You can find one person among ten suffering from the issue. It causes severe pain in the abdomen, groin, and flank. The presence of blood in urine can spook you. But, it is common among people suffering from nephrolithiasis. Have you experienced sudden pain that is severe? You tried changing your body position, but you experience no improvement in pain? Then, you may have kidney stones. The glaring symptom of the issue is the severe pain that radiated from the back. It can spread to other areas like flank and the groin.

In most of the cases, you pass the kidney stone through urine within 48 hours. You can breathe a sigh of relief with the passing of the stone. If you do not pass the stone automatically, then you need treatment. The stones can obstruct the urinary tract and cause infections. So, you need to approach a doctor immediately to get necessary treatment. Read ahead to find more information on the issue. It will help you take the right steps.

What Is Nephrolithiasis?

The stones formation is the urinary tract gets its name based on its location. So, nephrolithiasis is the stones that occur specifically in the kidney. It is the word derived from the Greek language. Nephros means kidney while lithos refers to stone. So, together the name suggests the stone in the kidney. The stone is nothing but crystalline material that is made of hard mineral. The nephrolithiasis is formed within the kidney.


The crystalline mass or solid material develops as a result of precipitation of various solutes in the urine.  The size of the stone varies from small (sand grains) to big (golf ball). Therefore, the increased excretion of the components like calcium, urate, oxalate or cysteine results in the development of nephrolithiasis. The minerals present in your urine can clump together form hard nuggets. Small kidney stone (the size of sand grain) passes through the urinary tract with ease. So, you may never experience any pain or discomfort. But, larger stone (size of golf ball) can block the urine flow. It results in severe pain, inflammation or infection. Your body tries to push it out of the system resulting in enhanced agony.

Causes Of Nephrolithiasis

Nephrolithiasis is a common disease. So, one in every twenty people can get affected by the issue. Men are more prone to the condition compared to women. So, you can find that around 80% of the total kidney patients are men. Women are less prone to the issue. Many men experience the first episode of nephrolithiasis between the ages 20-30. Women are vulnerable to the issue at a later stage of their life. The next obvious question is, why is it common? The causes of nephrolithiasis range from your diet, family history to the side-effects of medication. Therefore, you can get the issue due to a wide range of complications. The common causes of the issue are:

Lack Of Water

The minerals in the urine clump when it is not dilute enough. So, concentrated urine poses a high risk of nephrolithiasis. The dehydration in the body can lead to the issue. If you don’t drink enough water, then it leads to the kidney stone. Some people drink enough water. But, the excessive sweating can also lead to the complication. In such cases, your urine looks dark in color. It is pale yellow or clear in normal cases.


What you eat can make you vulnerable to nephrolithiasis. According to the medical data, calcium oxalate stones are more common compared to other types. The sticking of calcium and oxalate together during the urine formation results in stones. Oxalate is the chemical that is present in healthy foods. So, you can find it more in the vegetables like:

  • Rhubarb
  • Spinach
  • Grits
  • Bran Cereal

The large intake of high-oxalate food results in the issue. If you have a history of nephrolithiasis, it is better to restrict the food rich in oxalate.



Sodium increases your risk of getting kidney stones. It increases the calcium content in your body that can form stones. You consume sodium mainly through the salt and food items with more salt content. Therefore, you need to limit your salty snacks, packaged meat, canned foods, and processed foods.

Animal Protein

Animal protein can make your urine acidic. So, it results in the uric acid, cysteine, and calcium oxalate stones. The animal protein can increase the calcium levels along with decreasing the citrate levels. So, it can make you more susceptible to nephrolithiasis. The high levels of uric acid in the body can get accumulated in the kidney to develop into stone.

Bowel Problems

People suffering from bowel problems are more prone to get kidney diseases. Subsequently, people suffering from inflammatory bowel disease can lead to nephrolithiasis. The stomach issues lead to diarrhea resulting in loss of water from the body. It prompts the body to absorb more oxalate from your intestine. Hence, it causes the oxalate levels to increase in the urine. If you suffer from the following bowel issues, then you can get kidney stones:

  • Ulcerative Colitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Obesity

The excess body weight and increasing waist size can cause many diseases. One among them is the kidney problems. The increased fat accumulation can enhance the uric acid levels in your body. So, it results in the kidney stones

Medical Conditions

Kidney stones can also point towards the underlying medical condition. Some disease can cause the formation of kidney stones. The diseases that can lead to nephrolithiasis are:


The elevated levels on insulin in the blood can lead to type 2 diabetes. It can also make the urine acidic. Hence, it increases our risk of kidney stone formation.


It is a condition that can lead to excess uric acid buildup. The high levels of uric acid in your blood can increase the chances of crystal formation in your kidneys and joints. Therefore, the kidney stones formed will make you uncomfortable. You will feel more pain with


The condition triggers your parathyroid glands to malfunction. So, it pumps out excess hormones into your bloodstream. It results in the high levels of calcium in the blood. With the increase in calcium levels in your body, your risk of getting kidney stones is higher.

Renal Tubular Acidosis

It is the disease that causes excess acid to build up in your body resulting in the stone formation.

Other diseases genetic in nature can increase your risk of kidney diseases. So, if you have birth defect resulting in kidney cyst or medullary sponge kidney, then it leads to nephrolithiasis.

Side-Effects Of Medication

Some of the medication you take to cure the issues in your health can increase the risk of nephrolithiasis. The medication that you need to use with caution are:

  • Drugs used to treat conditions like AIDS and HIV
  • Antibiotics (sulfa antibiotics and ciprofloxacin)
  • Diuretics used in the treatment of high blood pressure

Signs Of Nephrolithiasis

If you suffer from nephrolithiasis, then you may experience one or more symptoms discussed below. You need to get medical treatment immediately to avoid further complication. Ignoring the issue is not good for your health. Therefore, seek an appointment with your doctor to find the actual issue bothering you.

  • Intense pain in the backside, belly or below your ribs
  • Burning sensation/pain during urination
  • Blood in urine
  • Frequent feeling to urinate
  • Cloudy/smelly urine
  • Passing a small amount of urine
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fevers and chills

Diagnosis Of Nephrolithiasis

If you observe any of the symptoms above, then you need to get treatment. Seek an appointment with your doctor. Your medical professional may diagnose the issue by conducting the following tests.

Lab Tests

The sample or blood and urine are sent to the laboratory to detect the presence of minerals in it. Your doctor can make an initial assessment of the results.


Your doctor may suggest a complete blood test to know the exact issue of your discomfort. The blood tests can reveal the minerals present in the blood. Depending on the mineral levels, your doctor can determine the type of stone.


It involves taking the sample of your urine. The healthcare professional can send the urine sample to the lab. So, it helps detects the minerals in the urine. The presence of the bacteria and white blood cells point towards urinary tract infection. So, depending on the type of result obtained, your doctor may suggest further testing.

Imaging Tests

Imaging tests offer much more clarity to your doctor. It helps find nephrolithiasis with ease. The tests can also reveal the cause of kidney stone like a birth defect or blockage of the urinary tract.

Renal Ultrasound

It is the best non-invasive method to detect the presence of larger kidney stones. The bonus point is the low radiation. Therefore, it is ideal for pregnant women. But, smaller stones can miss the imaging technique.

Abdominal X-ray


The x-ray can show the areas of the abdomen on a film. Your doctor may have it on the computer. So, it shows the location of the kidney stones. It is specifically useful in detecting the calcium stones. The radio-opaque nature of the stone makes it easier to detect with x-ray. But, it has radiation risks. Therefore, it is not ideal for pregnant women.

Computed Tomography (CT) Scans

It uses computer technology and x-rays to create images to detect kidney stones. It is best for kidney stone of 3mm or greater. Your doctor may suggest it as it offers a more precise image of the location and size of kidney stones.

Nephrolithiasis Treatment Options

Depending on the diagnosis, your doctor can adopt the right treatment for nephrolithiasis. The effective treatment methods can relieve the pain and discomfort in your life. The different types of treatment available are:

Supportive Care

It involves easing the pain you may feel due to the nephrolithiasis. The dehydration is also overcome with supportive care.

Increase Fluid Intake

Your doctor will suggest you drink more water. The hydration can eliminate the symptoms to an extent. So, the small stones can flush out of your body with good hydration.

IV Fluids

For severe dehydration, you doctor delivers fluids through IV. Your doctor will also suggest delivering the medication through the IV.

Medical Procedure

For stones that do not pass through urine requires a medical procedure. Your doctor can adopt the following procedures.

Extracorporeal Shockwave Therapy

Shockwave therapy can treat nephrolithiasis. It breaks up the kidney stones. Therefore, the stones can pass more easily after breaking down.

Ureteroscopic Stone Removal

The procedure uses a device with a small camera. A camera gets inserted into the body through your urethra. The camera can point the exact location of the kidney. So, it aids removing the kidney stone.

Laser Lithotripsy


Laser beams are used to break the kidney stones. Therefore, it is an effective treatment for nephrolithiasis without causing many issues. It is the least invasive procedure that can eliminate the kidney stones.


The medications mostly focus on relieving the pain. It can dull the senses can reduce the discomfort due to nephrolithiasis.

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug

NSAID prescribed by the doctors relieve the pain associated with the problem. It also decreases the inflammation caused by nephrolithiasis. Therefore, it can treat the symptoms associated with the issue like fever and chills.


The diuretics increase the urine production in your body. So, it helps get rid of the excess salt in your body. As you have read before, excess salt can increase calcium levels in your body. By reducing the salt levels, you can reduce the risk of nephrolithiasis.

Preventing Nephrolithiasis

Nephrolithiasis is a painful condition that can cause hindrance in your daily life. The pain and discomfort caused due to the disease can make a negative impact in achieving your goals for life. But, fortunately, it also a preventable condition. With certain steps, you can reduce the probability of getting the disease with ease. Therefore, follow the pointers suggested ensuring nephrolithiasis does not derail your life.

Good Hydration


Drinking water is good for your health. It can flush out the toxins accumulated in your body through urine. It also dilutes your urine, which prevents the crystal formation of the minerals. You need to drink at least 8 to 10 cups of water daily to compensate the fluid loss happening in your body.

Include Citrus Drinks


Along with drinking water, you can also include citrus drinks in your fluid intake. The citrate in lemonade or orange juice can prevent the clumping of the minerals. So, it effectively blocks the nephrolithiasis.



Diet plays an important role in limiting kidney stone. Including calcium-rich food in your diet will avoid oxalate stone formation. Consuming oxalate-rich foods and calcium at the same time will avoid crystal formation. It is due to fact that the two combines in the gut instead of your kidneys. So, it reduces the risk of nephrolithiasis. Apart from that, you need to avoid certain foods to prevent the issue:

  • Consume less sodium
  • Avoid processed food items
  • Restrict alcohol and tobacco consumption
  • Limit intake of animal protein


Nephrolithiasis is a condition that requires immediate medical attention. With proper care, you can get back with your life with ease. Taking the right steps at the right time will help you overcome the medical ailment. So, you can lead a happy life without having any discomfort or pain.

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