Kidney stones can develop in one or both kidneys when high levels of minerals and salts are present in urine. Various factors can cause kidney stones, and people whose close relatives have had kidney stones are more likely to develop them.
About 9% of females and 19% of males in the United States will experience kidney stones at some time in their lives. According to the National Kidney Foundation, hospital emergency departments see more than half a million people with kidney stone problems every year.
Research is unclear regarding the inheritance pattern of kidney stones. However, the risk of developing the condition is higher in those whose close relatives have experienced kidney stones than in the general population.
In this article, we examine whether kidney stones are genetic and how to determine whether they run in a family. We also look at the potential treatments and prevention options for kidney stones.
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Cystinuria is an inherited condition that develops when amino acids and cystine accumulate in the kidneys and bladder. This leads to stone formation, causing blockage of the urinary tract.
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The Obesity Medicine Association states that people with obesity have certain genes that contribute to weight gain, including the fat mass and obesity-associated gene (FTO), which can cause people to experience increased hunger, take in more calories, and have difficulty regulating their eating.
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Several measures can help reduce the chance of developing kidney stones.
- drinking more water
- avoiding soft drinks containing phosphoric acid, such as cola beverages
- following a low salt diet
- eating enough but not too many foods containing calcium, such as cheese and yogurt
Doctors may prescribe preventive medications for people at risk of developing more kidney stones later in life. This may apply if people have uric acid stones, cystine stones, or a family history of kidney stones.
Some medications may also contribute to kidney stone formation, including diuretics, indinavir, and topiramate.
Additionally, dehydration may lead to the formation of kidney stones. When people do not drink enough fluids, they become dehydrated, so their urine contains less water. As a result, the urine contains more minerals and compounds, which may transform into stones.
There are several ways to treat small and large kidney stones.
Treating small kidney stones
A person can try to treat small kidney stones at home. Small kidney stones can usually pass out of the body in the urine.
Passing kidney stones can be painful and may take up to 2 days. Doctors may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to help relieve pain.
Doctors may suggest drinking more fluids, avoiding sugary drinks, and limiting salt intake to help get rid of the stones.
Treating large kidney stones
People with large kidney stones may need surgery to remove them.
Depending on the size and location of the stones, a person may undergo any of the following procedures:
- Shock wave lithotripsy: This is the most common treatment for kidney stones. A healthcare professional performs an ultrasound exam to check the area of the kidney. A doctor then uses a machine that sends ultrasound shock waves to break the kidney stones into smaller pieces. This allows the individual to pass the stones via their urine.
- Ureteroscopy: This involves inserting a small telescope through the urethra and bladder, which then goes up to the ureter where the stones lie. A doctor may use laser energy to break up the stones so that they can pass out of the body naturally.
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy: A healthcare professional uses a thin telescopic instrument called a nephroscope to reach the kidney. They then remove the kidney stones or break them into smaller pieces using laser energy.
People who have close relatives with kidney stones and are concerned about developing them should consult a doctor. A doctor can discuss potential risks, prevention strategies, or possible treatments.
A person should consult a healthcare professional if they have pain in the side of the abdomen accompanied by any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms may indicate that a person has a large kidney stone.
Kidney stones are hard objects that can form in the kidneys or bladder after certain chemicals build up in the body.
Kidney stones may be hereditary and may also develop in those with genetic disorders.
Doctors can recommend medications for prevention to people who have a family history of kidney stones or are at risk for further stones.