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 several substances 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 life-threatening 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 that some stones form more easily than others. Dehydration and not consuming enough fluids can contribute to stone formation, as there may not be enough urine to wash out 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 diseases, such as hyperparathyroidism
  • Having too much sodium, usually taken in through salt

Although food doesn’t cause 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.

Struvite stones are virtually always caused by a urinary tract infection (UTI) due to an enzyme secreted by certain types of bacteria. Because people with shorter urethras have more UTIs, they also tend to develop more struvite stones. These stones can grow very large and 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 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 intense pain often caused by kidney stones, many people 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 avoiding certain types of foods, but that is an individual call. For certain types of stones, sometimes medications are prescribed to help reduce the risk.

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.

Suggested Citation: Sepsis Alliance. Sepsis and Kidney Stones. 2022. https://www.sepsis.org/sepsisand/kidney-stones/

Updated February 10, 2022.

Read Personal Stories of Sepsis and Kidney Stones

Roby L.

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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Jacqueline Mayes-Pehl

Survivor, Survivor

I had what I thought was the flu for 3 weeks. During the day I felt fine but at night it was bad. One night I took my temperature and it was 104°F but apparently I didn’t want to bother anyone so I went to sleep. The next day, I now recall taking a UTI test at home (I didn’t remember this until I was healed) and it immediately said positive without having to wait. I did nothing. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) When my husband came home from work he said I had told him to go to the ... Read Full Story

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Claire Jenkins Robinson

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I started feeling unwell at the beginning of June this year with diarrhoea and vomiting and a chest infection, but as I’m type 1 diabetic didn’t think too much of it as infection tends to make my blood sugar unstable. (Sepsis and Diabetes) I did however go to my local hospital where I had a few bags of IV saline to rehydrate me. The junior doctor commented that my inflammation levels were raised but I was discharged with no treatment and my GP wasn’t alerted. As the chest infection developed into a hacking sputum producing cough, my GP prescribed penicillin ... Read Full Story

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Lorraine Straczynski

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

I had developed sepsis 3 times in my life in 2004, 2014 and 2018. 2004 and 2014 my sepsis advance to septic shock. Both times the sepsis originated from kidney stones. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones, Sepsis and Septic Shock) In 2018 the sepsis was accompanied by pneumonia and it didn’t advance into shock. (Sepsis and Pneumonia) 2004 was the worst of the three episodes. When I got to the hospital I was nearly dead, I fell into a coma and was hospitalized for over a month. It seems that my respiratory system had been affected because it hasn’t been the ... Read Full Story

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Amy L.

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

My name is Amy and I’m a survivor of sepsis. In April of 2020 I wasn’t feeling so great. I have frequent UTIs so I chalked the symptoms up to that, got an antibiotic and expected to feel normal within a few days. I didn’t. (Sepsis and Urinary Tract Infections) My symptoms progressively became worse but I muscled through it and lived most days normally. The morning of May 10 ,2020- I awoke with an unquenchable thirst and was totally lethargic. I went to the ED, with a 104 fever and my BP was off of the charts. It was ... 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.