Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. They develop when crystals in the urine clump together instead of passing through the body. The exact cause is unknown, but risk factors include diet, urinary tract infections, and metabolic disorders. In most cases, they pass without treatment; however, procedures such as extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy can be used to remove problem stones.
Kidney Stones: An Overview
Kidney stones are one of the most painful conditions a person can have, and they are one of the most common disorders of the urinary tract. In 2000, patients made 2.7 million visits to their healthcare providers for problems associated with kidney stones, and more than 600,000 patients went to the emergency room for kidney stone problems.
However, kidney stones are not a product of modern life. Scientists have found evidence of kidney stones in a 7,000-year-old Egyptian mummy.
Although most kidney stones pass out of the body without any intervention by a physician, kidney stones that cause symptoms and other complications can be treated.
Understanding the Urinary Tract
The urinary tract system consists of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located below the ribs toward the middle of the back. The role of the kidneys is to:
- Help control blood pressure
- Help make red blood cells
- Help keep bones strong
- Remove extra water and wastes from the blood (wastes come from the normal breakdown of active muscle and from the food that you eat)
- Convert the extra water and wastes from the blood to urine.
If your kidneys do not remove these wastes, they will build up in the blood and damage your body.
Narrow tubes called ureters carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder, which is an oval-shaped chamber in the lower abdomen. Like a balloon, the bladder's elastic walls stretch and expand to store urine, and flatten back together when the urine is emptied through the urethra outside of the body.