Ask anyone who’s had a kidney stone what it’s like and they’ll tell you a horrific tale of pain and agony. Kidney stones, which are jagged mineral deposits, form in the kidneys and pass through the urinary tract. Sound awful? It is. While there’s no way to be immune to developing kidney stones, there are steps you can take to discourage their formation. Let’s take a look at what kidney stones are, why they form, and what you can do to reduce your chances for developing them.
What Causes Kidney Stones?
There are a few factors that can cause kidney stones; one of the most common is excess calcium.  While calcium is a nutrient your body needs, if you get too much or your body’s processing systems are imbalanced, calcium can accumulate in the kidneys and bind with phosphates and oxalates to develop stones. Other causes of kidney stones include acidic urine, kidney infections, and genetic predisposition. People who’ve had kidney stones before are more likely to have them again. Secondary factors like obesity, dehydration, and medications may also encourage kidney stones to form. 
Why Are Stones Painful?
Sometimes compared to childbirth, kidney stones can be one of life’s most painful experiences. The level of discomfort is proportionate to the size of the stone. Small stones may form and pass through the urinary tract almost without notice. Larger stones, however, are a different story. With a shape like jagged, broken glass, every fraction of a millimeter they pass through the urinary tract can be excruciating.
How Are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?
Back pain, pain while urinating, and blood in the urine are some of the more obvious indications of kidney stones. There are formal tests that can assist in a precise determination, however.
- Urinalysis – Fairly simple and non-invasive, a urine sample can detect an infection or substances linked to stone formation.
- Blood Test – Analyzes blood levels of calcium, uric acid, electrolytes, and phosphorus and can detect imbalances that coincide with stone formation. May also provide information on kidney function.
- Imaging – Quite a bit more invasive, but x-rays and CT scans can detect the location and size of a stone, and sometimes the cause for its formation.