What is nephrolithiasis?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: Chirag N Dave, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Answer

Nephrolithiasis is a common disease that affects 1 in 11 people in the United States. [2]  Incidence and prevalence rates have been increasing over the last several decades. [3]   Based on claims data from the Urologic Disease in America Project, costs associated with a diagnosis of nephrolithiasis in 2000 were estimated at $3,494 per individual, thereby resulting in a total direct cost of nephrolithiasis at $4.5 billion among the employed population. [4]

The term nephrolithiasis specifically refers to calculi in the kidneys, but this article discusses both renal calculi (see the first image below) and ureteral calculi (ureterolithiasis; see the second image below). Ureteral calculi almost always originate in the kidneys, although they may continue to grow once they lodge in the ureter.

Small renal calculus that would likely respond to Small renal calculus that would likely respond to extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy.
Distal ureteral stone observed through a small, ri Distal ureteral stone observed through a small, rigid ureteroscope prior to ballistic lithotripsy and extraction. The small caliber and excellent optics of today's endoscopes greatly facilitate minimally invasive treatment of urinary stones.

Urinary tract stone disease has been a part of the human condition for millennia; in fact, bladder and kidney stones have even been found in Egyptian mummies. Some of the earliest recorded medical texts and figures depict the treatment of urinary tract stone disease.

Acute renal colic is probably the most excruciatingly painful event a person can endure. Striking without warning, the pain is often described as being worse than childbirth, broken bones, gunshot wounds, burns, or surgery. Renal colic affects approximately 1.2 million people each year and accounts for approximately 1% of all hospital admissions.

Most active emergency departments (EDs) manage patients with acute renal colic every day, depending on the hospital’s patient population. Initial management consists of proper diagnosis, prompt initial treatment, and appropriate consultations, but concurrently efforts should be directed towards patient education, including initial preventive therapy measures.

Although nephrolithiasis is not a common cause of renal failure, certain problems, such as preexisting azotemia and solitary functional kidneys, clearly present a higher risk of additional renal damage. Other high-risk factors include diabetes, struvite and/or staghorn calculi, and various hereditary diseases such as primary hyperoxaluria, Dent disease, cystinuria, and polycystic kidney disease. Spinal cord injuries and similar functional or anatomical urological anomalies also predispose patients with kidney stones to an increased risk of renal failure.

Recurrent obstruction, especially when associated with infection and tubular epithelial or renal interstitial cell damage from microcrystals, may activate the fibrogenic cascade, which is mainly responsible for the actual loss of functional renal parenchyma.

For other discussions on urolithiasis and nephrolithiasis, see Pediatric Urolithiasis, as well as Imaging Urinary Calculi, Hypercalciuria, Hyperoxaluria, and Hypocitraturia.


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