A Video of a Man's Kidney Stone—Here’s What Experts Want You To Know

His kidney stone measured in at 5 millimeters.

You might have heard from people who've had them just how painful passing a kidney stone can be. Maybe you've even experienced it first-hand. Did you ever wonder what a kidney stone looks like? Thanks to a woman who shared a video of a kidney stone her boyfriend passed, you can get a close-up look at what the pain-inducing stone looks like.

Man Peed Out a Kidney Stone—Here's What to Know
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"My poor boyfriend just peed this out," TikTokker Lauren Arrow wrote over the November 2021 TikTok video of herself poking at a jagged-looking stone with tweezers. "Poor urethra. I never knew kidney stones could be so evil. Look at that sharp little razor tip."

People sounded off in the comments as the video went viral. "I had one two years ago that size. I thought I was going to die," one person said. "New biggest fear unlocked," someone else wrote. "I am never using my kidneys again," another person joked.

The video—and people's comments and concerns—raised a lot of questions about kidney stones. Here's what you need to know.

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones (aka renal calculi) are hard, pebble-like pieces of material that form in one or both of your kidneys when you have high levels of certain minerals in your urine.

"As these substances accumulate in the kidney and harden, they begin to form a crystal," S. Adam Ramin, MD, a urologist and medical director of Urology Cancer Specialists in Los Angeles, told Health. "When multiple crystals accumulate and join together in a more compact form, we end up with a pebble-like formation, called a kidney stone."

Most kidney stones are calcium stones made from calcium oxalate and are pretty common—affecting about 8.8% of the U.S. population. That's more than double the rate in 1970.

Dr. Lane said, "there are more than a dozen types [of kidney stones], some of which can be formed completely from medicines or from taking too much of certain things, like caffeinated soda."

Other kidney stones include uric acid stones, which may form when your urine contains too much acid. There are also struvite stones, which may form after a urinary tract infection (UTI), and cystine stones, which can develop if you have cystinuria. This disorder leads to high levels of the amino acid cystine in your urine.

What Do Kidney Stones Look Like?

Kidney stones are usually brown or yellow. The size of the stones can vary from as small as a grain of sand to as big as a pea. In rare cases, they can get much larger.

"Some can get up to 20 millimeters or more," Brian Lane, MD, Ph.D., a urologist with Spectrum Health in Michigan, added. (The kidney stone in the viral video was 5 millimeters). Kidney stones can be smooth or jagged "with different angles, edges, and shapes," Dr. Lane explained.

Kidney Stone Symptoms

The symptoms of kidney stones are usually pretty noticeable.

Symptoms of a kidney stone that need help from a healthcare provider include:

  • Extreme pain in your back or side that will not go away
  • Blood in your urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Vomiting
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
  • A burning feeling when you urinate

A healthcare provider can diagnose a kidney stone through urine, blood, and imaging tests.

Risk Factors for Developing Kidney Stones

Anyone can get kidney stones. A laundry list of factors and conditions can put you at a higher-than-average risk of developing them.

They include:

  • Being male
  • Having a family history of kidney stones
  • Having a personal history of kidney stones
  • Not drinking enough liquids

People with the following health conditions are also at greater risk:

  • Inflammatory bowel issues
  • Cystic kidney diseases
  • Cystinuria
  • Digestive problems
  • Gout
  • Hypercalciuria (having excess calcium in the urine)
  • Hyperoxaluria (occurs when you have too much oxalate in your urine)
  • Hyperparathyroidism (a condition that causes too much calcium in your blood)
  • Obesity
  • Recurrent UTIs
  • Renal tubular acidosis (which happens when the kidneys don't remove acids from the blood into the urine as they should)

Certain medications, like diuretics, calcium-based antacids, anti-seizure drugs, and some medicines to treat HIV infection, can also raise your risk.

Treatments for Kidney Stones

Small kidney stones may be able to pass through your urinary tract on their own without treatment.

If you think you can pass it on your own, your doctor may have you drink a lot of liquids to move the stone along and may prescribe pain medicine. But if you have a larger kidney stone, a stone blocking your urinary tract, or a stone leaving you in a lot of pain, you may need to have it treated by a health care provider, Dr. Ramin said.

That can include undergoing something called shock wave lithotripsy, which uses sound waves to crack and break up the stone, so it's more easily passed, Dr. Ramin explained.

Healthcare providers may also do other procedures, including:

  • Cystoscopy, Healthcare providers look inside your bladder and urethra using a thin, lighted tube with a camera.
  • Ureteroscopy. Providers look inside your ureters, the tubes that connect your bladder and kidneys, to find the stone and then try to remove or break it up.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy. They insert a tool directly into your kidney through a small incision in your back to locate and remove the stone.

If treated promptly, complications of kidney stones are rare. But if you let them go untreated, they can cause:

  • Blood in the urine
  • Severe pain
  • UTIs
  • Loss of kidney function

How To Lower Your Risk of Developing Kidney Stones

Again, some people have underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of developing kidney stones. But in general, there are a few things you can do to lower your risk:

  • Stay well hydrated. "The single best piece of advice I can give here is to drink more water," Dr. Ramin said. "A dehydrated state is a major risk factor for kidney stone formation, so staying adequately hydrated is key." Dr. Ramin recommended drinking at least three liters (12 to 13 cups) of water daily.
  • Try to lower the amount of sodium in your diet. "As the body excretes sodium, it also excretes calcium, so limiting your intake [of sodium] will, in turn, reduce the amount of calcium in the urine," Dr. Ramin said. Less calcium means less chance of stones.

If you've had several kidney stones, your doctor may also recommend taking certain medications to lower the risk of developing more in the future. The medication will vary, depending on the type of kidney stones you've had.

If you have hyperparathyroidism—a condition that causes too much calcium in your blood due to parathyroid glands not working properly—your healthcare provider may recommend surgery to remove your parathyroid gland.

A Quick Review

Kidney stones come in different shapes and sizes. Smaller stones may pass on their own, but larger stones may require a procedure to remove the stone or break it up with sound waves.

Taking steps to lower your risk of developing kidney stones—drinking plenty of fluids, eating lower sodium foods, and talking with your healthcare provider about any medications that may contribute to forming stones—can go a long way toward helping prevent kidney stones.

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