Kidney and Bladder Stones: Types, Causes, Signs & Treatments

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  • 0:01 Passing a Stone
  • 0:30 Important Terms and…
  • 1:52 Why Do Stones Form in…
  • 4:03 The Different Types of Stones
  • 4:55 Diagnosis and Treatment
  • 6:23 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

This lesson will discuss the causes of the formation of urinary tract stones, including kidney and bladder stones, as well as how they are diagnosed and treated.

Passing a Stone

If you're reading or listening to this lesson, I really hope you are not someone who has had the utter misfortune of passing a stone. I have heard that it's excruciatingly painful. The causes for the stones that are passed are numerous, but there are many things you can do to stop them from forming, and thereby prevent yourself quite a bit of agony. The dilemma here is that there are many different types of stones that can form in your urinary tract, and they can begin and lodge in many different places.

Important Terms and Definitions

Stones in the urinary tract have a technical term called urolithiasis. Urolithiasis can be broken down to where the stones are located. From the beginning to the end of the urinary tract we have:

  • First, we have nephrolithiasis/nephroliths, or kidney stones, where 'nephro-' references the kidneys.
  • Then, we have ureterolithiasis/ureteroliths, stones in the ureter.
  • After that, we have cystolithiasis/cystoliths, bladder stones, with 'cysto-' referencing the bladder.
  • And finally, we have urethrolithiasis/urethrolithiasis, or stones in the urethra.

Note the common suffix of '-lithiasis' in all of these terms. 'Lith-' refers to a stone, and '-iasis' refers to the formation of a pathological condition. The medical term for a stone (a concretion) in the urinary tract is a calculus, or calculi when plural. It has nothing to do with mathematical calculus, I guarantee you, so don't start sweating about math all of a sudden!

I also don't think you need to worry about remembering what calculus is in medicine since you've certainly heard of the term dental calculus, also known as tartar, which is the hard stuff that forms on your teeth if you don't brush very well. Well, think of the calculus of this lesson as balls of tartar stuck in the urinary tract.

Why Do Stones Form in the First Place?

You know that your dentist has probably told you ad nauseam to brush your teeth twice a day to help prevent the formation of tartar. Well, your doctor would probably tell you that to help prevent the formation of urinary tract stones the best thing you can do is to stay hydrated throughout the day. That's because a very important risk factor for the development of stones is anything that limits or obstructs urinary flow.

So, for instance, dehydration decreases urinary flow, which most definitely predisposes to stone formation. Or, in men, an enlarged prostate compresses the outflow of urine through the urethra. This stagnates the urine in the bladder and allows for the precipitation of minerals that result in bladder stones.

Another thing that can cause stones is a urinary tract infection. Certain bacteria can create a very nice chemical environment in your urinary system that increases the chances of stone formation. And dehydration plays a role here, too. One of the ways your body defends itself against urinary tract infections is through urination.

When you urinate, the strong stream physically pushes any bacteria trying to get into your urinary system through the urethra back into the toilet bowl. But if you don't drink enough fluids, you don't urinate much, and, therefore, bacteria can more easily make their way into your bladder, predisposing to stone formation.

Other causes for stone formation include a family history of disease that may indicate an improper production of substances in the urinary tract that predisposes to stone formation. Or other diseases, such as gout, that deposit crystals in the kidneys that eventually coalesce into larger stones. Furthermore, we have poor dietary habits like eating too much salt, fat, protein, sugar, consuming too many minerals, and, of course, not drinking enough water. And that's in addition to things like genetic defects or medication, which can also predispose to stone formation.

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