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About 80 per cent of kidney stones are composed of calcium salts, which precipitate out of their normally soluble form in urine, usually because the patient has an inherited tendency to excrete excessive amounts of calcium (idiopathic hypercalcemia). A very small percentage of kidney stones are associated with a parathyroid tumor that increases production of parathyroid hormone and thus raises the serum calcium level. Persons with intestinal absorption problems, including those who have had intestinal bypass surgery for obesity, sometimes develop calcium stones because of excessive absorption of dietary oxalate, which is eventually excreted by the kidneys. Since vitamin C is converted by the body into oxalate, large doses of the vitamin can predispose one to stone formation.
The most common type of stones is the oxalate calculi, hard ones consisting of calcium oxalate; some have sharp spines that can abrade the renal pelvic epithelium, and others are smooth. Another common type is the phosphate calculi, which contain calcium phosphate in a mineral form such as brushite or whitlockite; they may be hard, soft, or friable and range from small to so large that they fill the renal pelvis. Struvite stones are composed of the salt magnesium ammonium phosphate and form in alkaline urine such as that produced in urinary tract infections. Uric acid stones form when there is an increased excretion of uric acid, as in gout or certain malignancies. An acid urine favors their formation. Cystine stones are associated with cystinuria, a hereditary kidney disorder in which there is excessive excretion of cystine. “Staghorn stones” are ones that have extended from the renal pelvis into the calyces, giving them sharp protrusions like the antlers of a stag.
Additional preventive measures include avoidance or prompt treatment of urinary tract infections, changing the urinary pH in cases in which acidity or alkalinity predisposes to stone formation, treatment of underlying pathologies such as parathyroid tumor, and careful long-term follow-up of patients who have had intestinal bypass surgery or a history of intestinal malabsorption.
Uric acid stones can be prevented by administering the drug allopurinol, which inhibits the formation of uric acid, and by keeping the urine relatively alkaline. An alkaline urine and high intake are effective means of preventing cystine stones. If these measures fail, however, the drug penicillamine may be prescribed.
A specific strategy for prevention of stone formation in an individual patient requires chemical analysis of the stones, urine, and blood to determine the type of stone being formed.
The classic symptoms of renal colic occur when a small calculus is dislodged from the renal pelvis and begins to travel down the ureter. Many stones have sharp spicules or spikes on their surfaces; as they roll along the ureter they can scrape the lining, causing excruciating pain and bleeding. The pain is typically felt in the flank over the affected kidney and ureter and radiates downward toward the genitalia and inner thigh. Nausea and vomiting can occur as a result of the severe pain. If an infection is present the patient experiences fever and chills.
If the stone is not passed, the traditional treatment has been surgical intervention to remove it via ureteroscopy. A newer noninvasive technique is lithotripsy, which involves crushing the stone into fragments small enough to be passed in the urine; this is done using any of a variety of techniques, the most common being ultrasound.
Analgesics should be administered promptly to provide relief of pain and facilitate passage of the stone. Fluid intake and output are measured; the intake is encouraged to be 4000 ml every 24 hours. Characteristics of the urine are noted, and all urine is strained until the stone is either passed or removed surgically. Dietary restrictions and recommendations to alter urinary pH and the reason for increased fluid intake are explained to the patient and family members as appropriate. The patient also is taught to take prescribed medications faithfully and to report symptoms of urinary tract infection promptly.
The top of each kidney is opposite the 12th thoracic vertebra; the bottom is opposite the third lumbar vertebra. The right kidney is slightly lower than the left one. Each kidney weighs 113 to 170 g (4 to 6 oz), and each is about 11.4 cm (4 1 2 in) long, 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 in) broad, and 2.5 cm (1 in) thick. The kidneys in the newborn are about three times as large in proportion to body weight as they are in the adult.
Each kidney is surrounded by adipose tissue and by the renal fascia, a fibrous membrane that helps hold the kidney in place. On the medial side of a kidney is an indentation called the hilus or hilum, at which the renal artery enters and the renal vein and ureter emerge. The microscopic nephrons are the structural and functional units of the kidney; each consists of a renal corpuscle and renal tubule with associated blood vessels. In frontal section, the kidney is composed of two areas of tissue and a medial cavity. The outer renal cortex is made of renal corpuscles and convoluted tubules. The renal medulla consists of 8 to 18 wedge-shaped areas called renal pyramids; they are made of loops of Henle and collecting tubules. Adjacent to the hilus is the renal pelvis, the expanded end of the ureter within the kidney. Urine formed in the nephrons is carried by a papillary duct to the tip (papilla) of a pyramid, which projects into a cuplike calyx, an extension of the renal pelvis. See: illustration
The nephron consists of a renal corpuscle and renal tubule. The renal corpuscle is made of a capillary network called a glomerulus surrounded by Bowman's capsule. The renal tubule extends from Bowman's capsule. The parts, in order, are as follows: proximal convoluted tubule, loop of Henle, distal convoluted tubule, and collecting tubule, all of which are surrounded by peritubular capillaries. See: illustration
Formation of Urine
Urine is formed by filtration, reabsorption, and secretion. As blood passes through the glomerulus, water and dissolved substances are filtered through the capillary membranes and the inner or visceral layer of Bowman's capsule; this fluid is now called glomerular filtrate. Blood cells and large proteins are retained within the capillaries. Filtration is a continuous process; the rate varies with blood flow through the kidneys and daily fluid intake and loss. As the glomerular filtrate passes through the renal tubules, useful materials such as water, glucose, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals are reabsorbed into the peritubular capillaries. Most of these have a renal threshold level, i.e., a limit to how much can be reabsorbed, but this level is usually not exceeded unless the blood level of these materials is above normal. Reabsorption of water is regulated directly by antidiuretic hormone and indirectly by aldosterone. Most waste products remain in the filtrate and become part of the urine. Hydrogen ions, creatinine, and the metabolic products of medications may be actively secreted into the filtrate to become part of the urine. The collecting tubules unite to form papillary ducts that empty urine into the calyces of the renal pelvis, from which it enters the ureter and is transported to the urinary bladder. Periodically the bladder is emptied (a reflex subject to voluntary control) by way of the urethra; this is called micturition, urination, or voiding. If a normally hydrated individual ingests a large volume of aqueous fluids, in about 45 min a sufficient quantity will have been excreted into the bladder to cause the urge to urinate. See:
Urine is about 95% water and about 5% dissolved substances. The dissolved materials include minerals, esp. sodium, the nitrogenous waste products urea, uric acid, and creatinine, and other metabolic end products. The volume of urine excreted daily varies from 1000 to 2000 ml (averaging 1500 ml). The amount varies with water intake, nature of diet, degree of body activity, environmental and body temperature, age, blood pressure, and many other factors. Pathological conditions may affect the volume and nature of the urine excreted. However, patients with only one kidney have been found to have normal renal function even after half of that kidney was removed because of cancer. There is no evidence that forcing fluids is detrimental to the kidneys.
The nerve supply consists of sympathetic fibers to the renal blood vessels. These promote constriction or dilation, esp. of arteries and arterioles.
Frequently encountered diseases of the kidney include infection (pyelonephritis), stone formation (nephrolithiasis), dilation (hydronephrosis), protein loss (nephrosis), cancer (hypernephroma), and acute or chronic renal failure. See: dialysis; glomerulonephritis; nephropathy; nephritis; renal failure
The kidneys are examined by palpation, intravenous pyelography, ultrasonography, computed tomography scan, cystoscopy, retrograde cystoscopy, or magnetic resonance imaging. Kidney function is also frequently examined with blood tests (e.g., for electrolytes, blood urea nitrogen, and creatinine) and by urinalysis or timed collections of urine.
Infected persons typically lose large quantities of protein in the urine and may present with edema or symptoms of fluid overload, nephrosis, or renal failure.