Definition of Urolithiasis

Urolithiasis: The process of forming stones in the kidney, bladder, and/or urethra (urinary tract).

Kidney stones are a common cause of blood in the urine and pain in the abdomen, flank, or groin. Kidney stones occur in 1 in 20 people at some time in their life.

The development of the stones is related to decreased urine volume or increased excretion of stone-forming components such as calcium, oxalate, urate, cystine, xanthine, and phosphate. The stones form in the urine collecting area (the pelvis) of the kidney and may range in size from tiny to staghorn stones the size of the renal pelvis itself.

The cystine stones (below) compared in size to a quarter (a U.S. $0.25 coin) were obtained from the kidney of a young woman by percutaneous nephrolithotripsy (PNL), a procedure for crushing and removing the dense stubborn stones characteristic of cystinuria.

Cystine stones compared to quarter

The pain with kidney stones is usually of sudden onset, very severe and colicky (intermittent), not improved by changes in position, radiating from the back, down the flank, and into the groin. Nausea and vomiting are common.

Factors predisposing to kidney stones include recent reduction in fluid intake, increased exercise with dehydration, medications that cause hyperuricemia (high uric acid) and a history of gout.

Treatment includes relief of pain, hydration and, if there is concurrent urinary infection, antibiotics.

The majority of stones pass spontaneously within 48 hours. However, some stones may not. There are several factors which influence the ability to pass a stone. These include the size of the person, prior stone passage, prostate enlargement, pregnancy, and the size of the stone. A 4 mm stone has an 80% chance of passage while a 5 mm stone has a 20% chance. If a stone does not pass, certain procedures (usually by a urology specialist doctor) may be needed.

The process of stone formation, urolithiasis, is also called nephrolithiasis. "Nephrolithiasis" is derived from the Greek nephros- (kidney) lithos (stone) = kidney stone "Urolithiasis" is from the French word "urine" which, in turn, stems from the Latin "urina" and the Greek "ouron" meaning urine = urine stone. The stones themselves are also called renal caluli. The word "calculus" (plural: calculi) is the Latin word for pebble.


Last Editorial Review: 8/28/2013

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