While most kidney stones will pass without treatment, it’s important to discuss them with your doctor to avoid complications.

An estimated 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone diagnosis at least once in their life. Put into perspective, roughly half a million people find themselves in an emergency room with a kidney stone annually. In the United States, the incidence of kidney stones has risen to 10% of the population.

Kidney stones are formed when chemicals found in your urine harden. There are four kinds of kidney stones, and they’re often caused by a combination of too much waste and not enough liquids to properly flush them out of your system.

As waste builds up, it turns into crystals that attract other materials, creating larger objects that can sometimes build blockages known as kidney stones.

Many kidney stones are naturally flushed out of the body through the urine because they’re smaller in size. Depending on the severity of the stone, some people can choose to wait and let it pass on its own.

But most people will be cautioned to wait no more than 4–6 weeks for this — as long as the pain or discomfort is tolerable. However, if stones don’t pass independently, affect kidney function, or cause serious pain, medical interventions might be needed.

If left untreated, kidney stones may cause blockages in the ureters (the tubes connecting the kidneys to the bladder), which can make them narrower. Plus, this can trigger infections or cause urine to build up, which forces the kidneys to work harder. While most stones are treated before this can become an issue, signs that a kidney stone is causing problems include:

Experiencing a kidney stone during pregnancy is somewhat uncommon. The American Urological Association notes that the frequency of kidney stones equals one in every 1,500–3,000 pregnancies. When they do occur, they’re more likely to be in the second and third trimesters.

During pregnancy, healthcare professionals can safely diagnose and treat kidney stones with minimal risk to both you and your baby. Most often, having bed rest, increasing fluids, and taking approved pain relievers are enough to help manage the condition. Some people may require medical interventions, but your doctor will let you know if this is the case.

If left untreated, kidney stones that don’t pass can create complications. Specifically, they can interfere with natural birth or cause preterm labor — both of which can be life threatening to the baby. If you’re experiencing a kidney stone during pregnancy, be sure to let your doctor know.

As with other population groups, smaller kidney stones are rarely a cause of serious concern for older adults. These stones will usually pass on their own with minimal pain. But larger stones can pose the same risks, such as reduced bladder function and infection. Plus, they can be very painful and may need treatment with medical interventions.

Of all age groups that can get kidney stones, older adults face more risks of complications. Specifically, a 2017 study noted that the elderly have a higher rate of death and infection as a result of kidney stones than other populations.

The study also noted that elderly people are more likely to be taking medications or vitamins that can change their metabolic profile. As a result, they have a higher risk of developing kidney stones. Likewise, in elderly groups, kidney stones are usually present with other conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and even coronary artery disease.

Keep learning about kidney stones

Roughly 600,000 new kidney stone cases are reported in the United States every year.

Although kidney stones generally affect a smaller segment of the population, they can be incredibly uncomfortable. There are four types of kidney stones: calcium, uric acid, struvite, and cystine.

For many people, poor diet, not enough fluid intake, the diagnosis of certain conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or hyperparathyroidism, or the use of certain medications can raise the risk of developing kidney stones. In the United States, males are more likely to experience stones than females, and white people are more likely to have them than Black people.

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Kidney stones occur when waste builds up in the urinary tract and there isn’t enough fluid to flush it out. This waste hardens, forming stones. Smaller stones can usually pass out of the body with minimal pain, but larger stones may require medical interventions. If left untreated, kidney stones can affect how your urinary tract works.

During pregnancy, this risk can also extend to causing complications during labor or even preterm labor. For older adults, the risk includes developing an infection or even death. If you suspect kidney stones, don’t delay and seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.