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What Causes Kidney Stones?

What Causes Kidney Stones?

January 16, 2024 Posted in: Health & Wellness  5 minute read time


Kidney stones are a common medical condition that can affect a significant portion of the population, often bringing about excruciating pain and discomfort. Understanding the factors that make individuals more likely to form kidney stones is crucial for effective prevention and management. This article explores how kidney stones form, the various types they can take, and the diagnostic and treatment approaches employed by health care professionals.

How do Kidney Stones Form?

Kidney stones form when substances like calcium or oxalate in the urine become too concentrated, crystallizing and sticking together to create solid masses, ranging from tiny bits to as large as a golf ball.

How Fast Can Kidney Stones Form?

The rate at which kidney stones form can vary from person to person. In general, it’s a gradual process that happens over several weeks or months. However, certain factors, like not drinking enough water and metabolic imbalances, can speed up the formation of kidney stones.

What are the Main Causes of Kidney Stones?

Several lifestyle factors contribute to an increased risk of developing kidney stones. Understanding and addressing these factors are crucial for reducing the risk of kidney stone formation.

  • Dehydration: Insufficient water in the body is a primary cause of kidney stones, leading to concentrated urine that makes stone formation easier. Staying well-hydrated is crucial for preventing kidney stones.
  • Excessive Sodium Intake: Consuming too much salty food can also lead to kidney stones by increasing salt levels in the urine, causing the body to eliminate more calcium. Monitoring and moderating salt intake can reduce the risk of kidney stones.
  • Animal Protein: Eating a lot of meat, especially red meat, contributes to kidney stone formation. Animal proteins contain purines, releasing uric acid into the urine and increasing the excretion of calcium and oxalate. Eating less animal protein, maintaining a balanced diet, and staying hydrated can lower the risk of kidney stones.
  • Obesity: Being overweight increases the chance of kidney stones, as excess body weight can alter urinary function. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and exercise can help mitigate this risk.
  • High Oxalate Foods: Certain foods rich in oxalates, such as beets, nuts, chocolate and certain berries, can contribute to the formation of calcium oxalate stones.
  • Inadequate Dietary Calcium: Paradoxically, not having enough calcium in your diet may lead to an increased risk of kidney stones. Calcium binds with oxalate in the intestines, and if there’s not enough calcium, then the excess oxalate can be absorbed into the bloodstream and excreted through the kidneys.
  • Underlying Medical Conditions: Certain medical conditions, including urinary tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic disorders, can increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
  • Certain Medications: Some medications, including diuretics, antacids, and certain antibiotics, may contribute to the development of kidney stones by affecting the composition of urine.

Talk to a Urologist About Your Risk Factors

Kidney Stones in Men vs Women

While both men and women can develop kidney stones, there are gender-specific factors that contribute to stone formation. Men tend to have a higher incidence of kidney stones, possibly due to hormonal and anatomical differences. Women may be more susceptible to certain types of stones, particularly those associated with urinary tract infections.

Types of Kidney Stones

There are several types of kidney stones, each with its own unique composition. Understanding the different types is essential for finding the best way to treat them.

  • Calcium Oxalate Stones: Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stones. They form when calcium combines with oxalate in the urine. Oxalate is a naturally occurring substance found in many foods, and when there’s an excess of it in the urine, it can combine with calcium to create crystals that then turn into stones, Calcium phosphate stones are formed with calcium combined with phosphate in the urine. Dietary factors, such as high intake of animal protein and acidic foods, can influence the formation of these stones. Unlike calcium oxalate stones, which are more common, calcium phosphate stones are less frequent but still pose a risk.
  • Struvite Stones: Struvite stones often result from urinary tract infections. They can grow quickly and become quite large, posing a risk of complications. Managing and preventing urinary tract infections is key to reducing the risk of struvite stones.
  • Uric Acid Stones: Uric acid stones form when there is an excess of uric acid in the urine. Certain medical conditions, such as gout, can contribute to the development of these stones. Dietary modifications and medications may be necessary to prevent their recurrence.
  • Cystine Stones: Cystine stones are rare and result from a genetic disorder that causes the kidneys to excrete too much cystine. Proper diagnosis and long-term management are essential for individuals with this genetic predisposition.

Learn More About Kidney Stone Symptoms and Prevention

How Are Kidney Stones Diagnosed and Treated?

Diagnosing kidney stones typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination and imaging studies. Imaging techniques like CT scans, ultrasounds and X-rays help identify the size and location of the stones. Once diagnosed, treatment options may include:

  • Pain Management: Medications can help with the pain from kidney stones.

  • Hydration: Having more fluids can make it easier for smaller stones to pass

  • Medical Expulsion Therapy: Some medication can help muscles in the body relax, making it easier for stones to come out.

  • Lithotripsy: This non-invasive procedure uses shock waves to break up stones into smaller pieces for easier elimination.

  • Surgical Intervention: For larger stones, surgery might be needed to remove them


Understanding the causes, types and treatment options for kidney stones is essential for both prevention and effective management. By taking simple steps like drinking enough water, watching salt intake and maintaining a healthy weight, you can lower the risk of developing kidney stones. Knowing the different types of stones and getting the right tests and treatments are also essential for taking care of kidney stone problems.

Find Urological Care at CHI Saint Joseph Health

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