The 4 Stages of Passing a Kidney Stone & Recognizing Early Signs

A kidney stone is a stone that forms in the kidneys and sometimes the ureters when there is excess material in the body that accumulates and develops into a crystal. This crystal is known as a kidney stone, and the stages of passing a kidney stone can be complicated. A kidney stone is typically developed after a large quantity of calcium, salt, or other minerals in the body add up and are not excreted in the urine. In most cases, the body is trying to eliminate these chemicals, but can not, so the excess remaining in the body forms into a kidney stone. It is estimated that approximately one in 10 people in America will form a kidney stone at some point in their lives.

Many times, kidney stone symptoms will not appear until kidney stone pain is realized. For many, this is described as the worst kind of pain that you can suffer, even worse than childbirth which occurs without pain management. For some people, the problem can pass quickly and easily, as there are many different kinds of kidney stones treatment and many different kinds of kidney stones. Learn more about what causes kidney stones and the stages of passing a kidney stone here.

Kidney Stone Symptoms

It is estimated that the risk of getting a kidney stone is approximately 11 percent for men and 9 percent for women. A kidney stone is a crystal rock in the body that forms from chemicals in urine. When the body urinates, its goal is to remove the body of excess waste. In some cases, the body can not remove excess waste. When that waste is left in the body, it forms a crystal. 

The first signs of a kidney stone include pain in the lower back, signs of infection such as fever and chills, and nausea or vomiting. You might also experience some blood in your urine or a darker color to your urine. Pain is the most common of all kidney stone symptoms, but in many cases, you won’t notice the pain right away. A feeling of pressure in the body area where this is happening can also be indicative of a kidney stone. This is not pain per se, but a feeling of pressure in the body. You may also feel like you need to urinate a lot, or experience an urgency in the need to urinate. Pain, when you attempt to urinate, may also be present, and this can indicate the location of the kidney stone.

Sometimes, the body can remove the kidney stone naturally with a little help from some extra hydration. In other cases, you will need to see a doctor or visit the emergency room to alleviate the pain caused by kidney stones and get help with them managing it. The pain is described as a sharp and stabbing pain that is intermittent in most cases. In the earliest stages of passing a kidney stone, you may feel this pain every few hours.

There are many causes of kidney stones and kidney stones symptoms. Some research indicates that they can be hereditary. Diet can be a significant factor in the development of kidney stones, but even with a healthy diet, a hereditary connection can exist that can result in kidney stones. It is considered also that men are more likely than women to get kidney stones, however, women can get them as well.

Pre-existing health conditions can also result in kidney stones. If you have a block in the urinary tract already, you will be more likely to get them. Chronic bowel issues may also result in kidney stones. Obesity, recurrent urinary tract infections, renal disease, gout, and chronic digestive problems may also result in kidney stones. Additionally, some people that take medications like diuretics, additional calcium, and even an excess intake of antacids can lead to kidney stones. Some HIV medications and anti-seizure prescriptions can also result in kidney stones.

Types of Kidney Stones & Stages Of Passing A Kidney Stone

There are a few different types of kidney stones that are identified by the kind of chemical or mineral that results in their formation. Those are calcium, oxalate, uric acid, struvite stones, and cystine stones.

The most common kind of kidney stone is calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate kidney stones. Calcium stones are formed when there is an excess amount of calcium in the body, and calcium oxalate kidney stones are the most common kind of kidney stones. The calcium that you intake from food will never be the cause of this kind of kidney stone. However, if you are taking calcium vitamins or consuming antacids regularly or in excess, you may develop kidney stones. Any extra calcium that you intake that is not used by the body for your bones or your bloodstream will go through the kidneys to be flushed out. If it does not, you increase the risk of developing a kidney stone.

A uric acid kidney stone is one that forms when your urine has an excess amount of acid in it. That is the result of a specific diet, such as a fish or shellfish diet. Specifically, meat that comes from animal organs can cause this kind of acid in the urine. When you eat too much, you could get a kidney stone. A struvite stone is a kidney stone that develops after chronic urinary tract infections. These will develop quickly and will add to the pain and burning you feel when you urinate. You will also experience an urgency to urinate with this kind of kidney stone.

The kind of kidney stone that occurs as a result of a hereditary condition is connected to a disorder known as cystinuria. This is a disorder that is passed down through generations. This disorder is one that will cause a buildup of amino acid cystine to pass through the kidney and into the urine. This is a protein chemical that when it attempts to pass into the urine, can form a stone. If the urine can not remove it from the body, more and more of this protein will build up into a crystal and become a kidney stone.

Stage 1

Each type of kidney stone will undergo the same stages of passing a kidney stone.  There are four stages of passing a kidney stone. The first stage is relatively painless because you don’t know that the problem is there. If you do experience any kidney stones symptoms now, you may have some pain and some chills or a sense of a fever. You will experience spasms in the lower region a few times every hour. Those pains will continue until you have successfully passed the kidney stone.

Stage 2

In stage two, the pain is worse as the stone has moved to your ureter, the tube between your kidneys and bladder. This can be the most painful stage of kidney stones. Here, the pain has worsened and can be described as throbbing. You will also feel pressure in the bladder and an urgency to urinate.

Stage 3

By the time the kidney stone reaches the bladder, the pain will begin to go away. Instead you will feel pressure and your body will still be working to remove the stone from your body. Still, a kidney stone may get stuck in your urethra and this will prevent urine from being removed from the body. This is going to cause some pain and pressure.

Stage 4

In the final stages of passing a kidney stone, it is leaving the body. You will have to push on your body a little bit to excrete the stone.  You will likely know when you have excreted it into a bowl or toilet as the pressure and pain will be gone.

Most kidney stones are less than 4 millimeters in size and will pass within 25 to 30 days without treatment. A stone that is larger will take up to two months to pass on its own without treatment. Stones that are lager than 6 millimeters can take up to a year to pass on their own, and typically need surgery for removal if the kidney stone symptoms are not passing on their own. It is estimated that as much as 48 percent of kidney stones can pass on their own without medical help.

For kidney stones, location matters. The closer they are to the bladder at the time of their development, the more likely they are going to pass and pass quicker. Approximately 79 percent of stones close to the bladders will pass on their own. When you are wondering how kidney stones pass, looking at where are the kidneys located is important.

Treatment, Warning Signs, & Prevention

There are many different kinds of treatment for kidney stones, some that you can do on your own and some that require medical intervention. Among the most invasive medical interventions is surgery, which includes a shock wave to the kidney stone to break up the kidney stone. Another surgery includes putting a tube into the ureter via an endoscope to break the kidney stone. Once the stone is removed, it will be examined in order to test it for its composition. This way, you will learn what caused the kidney stone and how to prevent them in the future.

Other forms of kidney stones treatment include at-home remedies that may be as simple as drinking a lot of water. Strong liquids such as cranberry juice or other acidic drinks that include apple cider vinegar or lemon juice can help shrink kidney stones naturally as well. Drinking coffee can help you to prevent kidney stones, although it is not known to shrink existing kidney stones. Avoiding drinks or food that contain a large amount of fructose corn syrup may also help.

Drink more water than you normally would when you are trying to flush out a kidney stone, and more than the recommended eight glasses daily. You also want to watch the calcium amounts in your diet and reduce your salt intake. If you need to lose weight, watch your diet and begin to lose weight.  This will help to alleviate kidney stone pain and kidney stone symptoms.

Get Help With Kidney Stones

When you are dealing with kidney stone pain, it can feel like the end of the world. It is a very common problem in the emergency rooms today. Contact your doctor or go to the hospital if you experience debilitating kidney stone pain that has gone on for more than a few hours or days. Get help with kidney stones pain, and move through the stages of passing a kidney stone easily and with support.

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers, MD

Sean Byers is currently a Resident in the Internal Medicine program at UTMB. He studied at the University of Queensland School of Medicine as well as received his Master’s in Public Health with a focus in epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Southern California. His background is in biology, computer science, public health, and internal medicine.

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