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

Paul Bechtelheimer

Survivor

It still amazes me that you can be absolutely fine one day and in intensive care the next day. My husband, Paul, went to work on a Thursday and started to feel ill. He came home early which was very uncharacteristic of him. We thought he had the flu. The next day he ended up in the emergency room and ultimately the ICU. Thankfully the doctor in the emergency department recognized the Paul was showing all the signs of sepsis and started treatment immediately. Paul was running a fever and was incoherent at times. He felt better after some fluids, ... Read Full Story

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Tammi Davis

Survivor, Survivor

My mother entered the ER in March of 2017 for lower back and chills. Once she got there things changed quickly. She developed a fever and could no longer produce urine and was in incredible pain . She was diagnosed with kidney stones and the doctors suggested for her to go home and to just try pass the stones on her own. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) My mom felt something was not right and insisted on staying at least over night for observation. The doctor agreed. When my mother got admitted onto the hospital floor, things took a turn for the ... Read Full Story

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Camille Baldwyn

Survivor, Survivor, 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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Matthew Sucese

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

About a couple weeks ago (currently the 17th of July) I was sent to the ER to find out I had a 8MM kidney stone, after blood work they had taken a different tone. I wasn’t aware I had sepsis until the second day in the hospital, they wanted to keep me calm until I had my surgeries. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) My nurses and doctors were fantastic I am incredibly thankful they were so attentive and so kind when I was at my worst. I was told that if I waited a day it would have been fatal, I ... Read Full Story

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Richelle Cooke

Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor, Survivor

On December 30, 2021, I was informed I had kidney stones in my left kidney, gallstones and a weird benign mass on my liver. I was thinking to myself, “Good God, why am I such a mess?!” By January 3rd, my urologist told me I had an 11mm kidney stone. Again, I was thinking what a mess I was. He told me he was going to take it out as soon as he could. (Sepsis and Kidney Stones) February 18th came, surgery day. I was put out and he attempted to remove the kidney stone through my urethra. At 2 ... 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.