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Kidney Stones

People who have had kidney stones say there is nothing more painful. Kidney stones can develop in one or both kidneys. Some people get one kidney stone in their lifetime, others can get them more often.

Urine has no solids, but there are times when the crystals in urine join together to form a stone. Although there are several substances that can form stones, the four most common are made of:

  • Calcium – common and can recur
  • Cystine – an amino acid
  • Struvite – develop as a result of urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Uric acid – a crystalline compound

Your kidneys are the beginning or top part of your urinary system. Urine is filtered in the kidneys and comes down through the ureters into your bladder, one from each kidney. The urine is held in the urinary bladder until it is emptied, when the urine passes through the urethra and out the urethral opening.

A risk with kidney stones is a kidney infection, which can lead to sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body’s often deadly response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Sepsis and septic shock can result from an infection anywhere in the body, such as pneumonia, influenza, or urinary tract infections. Worldwide, one-third of people who develop sepsis die. Many who do survive are left with life-changing effects, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), chronic pain and fatigue, organ dysfunction (organs don’t work properly), and/or amputations.

How do you get kidney stones?

While we don’t know what causes stones to form, we do know some stones form more easily than others. Dehydration, not consuming enough fluids, can contribute to stones forming, as there may not be enough urine to wash out the microscopic crystals.

Calcium stones, the most common kidney stones, seem to affect more men than women and they are most often in the twenties when it happens.

Risks include:

  • Too much calcium in the urine caused by disease, such as hyperparathyroidism
  • Having too much sodium, usually taken in through salt

Although food doesn’t cause the stone formation, some people may be told to avoid high calcium foods if they are prone to developing stones.

Cystine stones are caused by a disorder that runs in families and affects both men and women.

Struvite stones are virtually always caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) as a result of an enzyme secreted by certain types of bacteria. Because more women than men have UTIs, more women than men develop struvite stones. These stones can grow very large and can block the kidney, ureter, or bladder.

Uric acid stones affect more men than women and they can also occur in people who already get calcium stones. People who have high uric acid levels may have or develop gout.

What are the symptoms?

Some people don’t feel kidney stones until they start to move and try to exit the kidney. Some symptoms include:

  • Sharp, severe, cramping pain in the abdomen or side of the back
  • Pain can move to the groin or testicular area
  • Blood in the urine
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

What treatments are available?

Because of the pain caused by kidney stones, many people find that they need pain relief. Many describe it as the worst pain they’ve ever felt.

If you have a kidney stone, you will be encouraged to drink a lot of water if you don’t have a medical condition that limits the amount you may have. The extra fluid is to help wash the stone through your urinary system.

If the stone doesn’t pass within a reasonable amount of time, your doctor may recommend extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).  Shock waves are sent through to the stone to break them down into smaller pieces that can be passed. Sometimes, surgery may be needed.

The stone should be removed because of the high risk of infection, which could – in turn – lead to sepsis.

Can kidney stones be prevented?

While not all kidney stones can be prevented, there are ways to lower your risk of developing one or developing another one. The first and foremost way would be to drink enough fluids to ensure your urinary system gets flushed out well.

Your doctor could recommend that you avoid certain types of foods, but that is an individual call. For certain types of stones, sometimes medications are prescribed to help reduce the risk as well.

If you suspect sepsis, call 9-1-1 or go to a hospital and tell your medical professional, “I AM CONCERNED ABOUT SEPSIS.” 

The information here is also available as a Sepsis Information Guide, which is a downloadable format for easier printing.

Would you like to share your story about sepsis or read about others who have had sepsis? Please visit Faces of Sepsis, where you will find hundreds of stories from survivors and tributes to those who died from sepsis.

Updated November 2, 2021.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Kidney Stones

Camille Baldwyn

Survivor

1st February 2021 I had severe pain in my flank, I didn’t think much of it. The pain became unbearable so I rang 111 (the number to call for medical advice) only to be told to ring my GP. My GP told me to ring 999. Hours later paramedics arrived. I knew I had a kidney stone, the paramedics however believed it to be a slipped disc. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) They wanted to me to go an out of hours GP but my heart rate was too high, so they took me to A&E. I waited hours in A&E, ... Read Full Story

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Dawn D.

Survivor, Survivor

Hello, my name is Dawn I was 50 years old when it happened. On September 19, 2020 at around 10:00 pm I felt a terrible pain. This time I knew what the pain was a kidney stone. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) I waited but after a few hours I was in the ED. After pain meds and a few tests, they sent me home. Late Monday the pain stopped which normally would mean that the kidney stone reach the bladder. By Wednesday night the stone had not appeared, and I was in bad shape. Not enough blankets to warm me ... Read Full Story

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Susan Dorsey

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I’m a two time sepsis survivor. Six years ago, I had kidney stones which led to an UTI and ultimately sepsis. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones, Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) I was on a business trip in a new job, when I became very sick. I thought I had the flu. I managed to drive 6 hours back home after spending a long painful night in my hotel room. Went to the ER the next day, and was put into a medically induced coma to allow the doctors time to figure out the cause. Turns out it was a kidney ... Read Full Story

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Roby L.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

2013 I was diagnosed with a kidney stone. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) The ER physician told me not to worry about it. It was about the size of a dime and in an area where they don’t move from or grow. A year later, almost to the day I went to the ER again with kidney pain. Thank goodness I worked in a hospital at that time as I went to the ER on my lunch. The new MRI showed that the stone was now the size of a golf ball and had dropped. They called in a specialist for ... Read Full Story

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Rachel Rosemain

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

Friday August 3rd 2018, I awoke with horrendous back pain, which escalated throughout the day, including during a 3 hour drive, returning home from being on holiday. By the time I got home (I had been driving), I couldn’t stand, sit or lie down for more than a few seconds as my pain was excruciating. I couldn’t breathe very well. My partner called an ambulance, by which time I’d removed all my clothes, such was my fever. I got blue-lighted to A&E; was given maximum morphine in the ambulance and for the next 5 hours in A&E, I was on ... Read Full Story

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Kidney Stones

People who have had kidney stones say there is nothing more painful. Kidney stones can develop in one or both kidneys. Some people get one kidney stone in their lifetime, others can get them more often.