Kidney Stones: Symptoms and Causes

Victoria Burke by Victoria Burke | Licensed since 2011
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This article was updated on: 09/15/2018

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According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), about 11% of men and 6% of women in the United States will get kidney stones during their lifetimes. The pain or bleeding associated with this fairly common condition sends many people to emergency rooms every year.

What causes kidney stones?

You may be wondering what causes kidney stones to grow large enough to cause severe symptoms. In most cases, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the stones form because of a concentration of certain minerals that are normally found in urine in lower amounts. When the level of these minerals gets too high, kidney stones can form.

These masses may remain in the kidney or pass down into the urinary tract. Smaller kidney stones may pass on their own, and sometimes these only cause mild symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Larger masses might get stuck, and they can cause bleeding and severe pain.

Can you prevent kidney stones?

When you understand what causes kidney stones, you might be able to reduce your risk. For example, the NIH suggests staying well hydrated to keep urine diluted. People with close relatives who have suffered from kidney stones, who take certain medications, or have specific health conditions may have a higher risk of experiencing kidney stones symptoms.

For some patients, doctors might suggest a diet that limits consumption of sodium, calcium, animal protein, and oxalate to reduce the chance of kidney stone symptoms. On the other hand, the NIH report says that there has been no evidence that following a certain diet or eating certain kinds of food increases the risk in people who are not otherwise predisposed.

How are kidney stones symptoms treated?

The NIH website says doctors usually consider the severity of kidney stone symptoms when deciding upon treatment options. For mild symptoms, doctors might suggest an over-the-counter medication and drinking more water. For more severe kidney stones symptoms, patients may be prescribed pain killers or alpha blockers. An alpha blocker relaxes muscles to make it easier to pass a stone.

Treatment for more severe kidney stones symptoms and larger stones

Larger stones that can’t pass with more conservative treatments and cause serious kidney stone symptoms may require more invasive treatments, the NIH reports. Over time, large stones could cause damage to organs and the urinary tract. They might also cause bleeding and frequent urinary tract infections. They are also likely to be extremely painful.

Treatments for larger stones and the most severe kidney stone symptoms could include:

  • Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).Surgery
  • Urinary-system scope

Medicare coverage for kidney stones

Original Medicare (Part A and Part B) might cover inpatient or outpatient treatment, respectively, if certain conditions are met. For example, Part A generally covers services you receive as a hospital inpatient, while Part B may cover certain outpatient services. Part B may also cover medically necessary nutrition therapy to help prevent kidney stones. With either Part A or Part B, coinsurance and deductibles may apply.

If your doctor prescribes medication to help prevent recurrence of kidney stones, a stand-alone Medicare Part D Prescription Drug Plan or a Medicare Advantage Prescription Drug plan might help cover the medication costs.

If you’d like to know more about Medicare coverage for kidney stones and other kidney-related health problems, I’d be happy to explain it to you.

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