What Are Kidney Stones?
by John Vanse
If you have already suffered from the effects of a kidney stone, you will be well aware of how painful it can be.
But what is a kidney stone - and how does it form? Firstly, what do our kidneys do?
Your kidneys are bean-shaped organs, each about the size of a small fist, located near the middle of your back, just below the rib cage. They act as very efficient trash collectors. Your kidneys process around 200 quarts of blood each day and sift out about 2 quarts of waste products and extra water. This waste and extra water become urine, which flows to your bladder through tubes called ureters. Your bladder stores urine until you go to the bathroom where you excrete it through your urethra.
The wastes cleaned from your blood by your kidneys come from the normal breakdown of active muscle movement and from the food you eat. Your body uses the food for energy and self-repair. After your body has taken what it needs from the food for energy and self-repair, the waste products are sent to the blood. If these wastes were not removed by your kidneys, the wastes would build up in the blood and begin to seriously damage your body. Other functions of your kidneys include helping to control blood pressure and to make red blood cells.
What then is a Kidney Stone?
It is a solid piece of material that may form in the kidney from waste substances in the urine.
A kidney stone, once formed, may stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract. A small kidney stone may pass all of the way out of the body causing very little pain, or even no pain at all.
A larger stone may become stuck in a ureter, in the bladder, or in the urethra [which is the tube leading from the bladder which allows you to urinate]. A problem kidney stone can block the flow of urine and cause great pain.
The four major types of kidney stones:
* the most common type of kidney stone contains calcium. While calcium is a normal, and very necessary, part of a healthy diet, the calcium that is not used by the bones and muscles goes as a waste product to the kidneys. Most of the time, the kidneys flush out this extra calcium in the urine. However, at times, some calcium remains in the kidneys and eventually joins with other waste products to form a stone;
* struvite stones may form after an infection in the urinary system. These stones contain the mineral magnesium, which may have come from your diet, and the waste product ammonia which has resulted from your body processes;
* uric acid stones may result if there is too much acid in your urine. If you tend to form uric acid stones, you may need to reduce the amount of meat you eat;
* cystine stones are rare. Cystine is one of the building blocks that make up muscles, nerves, and other parts of the body. Cystine can build up in the urine to form a stone. The disease that causes cystine kidney stones is genetically based, that is, it runs in families.