A kidney stone begins as a tiny piece of crystal in the kidney. When the urine leaves the kidney, it may carry the crystal out, or the crystal may stay in the kidney. If the crystal stays in the kidney, over time more small crystals join it and form a larger kidney stone.
Most stones leave the kidney and travel through the urinary tract when they are still small enough to pass easily out of the body. No treatment is needed for these stones.
Larger stones may become stuck in the tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder (ureters). This can cause pain and possibly block the urine from flowing to the bladder and out of the body. The pain often becomes worse over 15 to 60 minutes until it is severe. The pain may ease when the stone no longer blocks the flow of urine. And the pain often goes away when the stone passes into the bladder. Medical treatment is often needed for larger stones.
Problems that may occur with kidney stones include:
- An increased risk of urinary tract infection, or making an existing urinary tract infection worse.
- Kidney damage, if stones block the flow of urine out of both kidneys (or out of one kidney, for people who have a single kidney). For most people with healthy kidneys, kidney stones do not cause serious damage until they completely block the urinary tract for 2 weeks or longer.