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Causes of Kidney and Ureteral Stones

Kidney and ureteral stones can form when the healthy balance of substances in the urine, like water, minerals and salts, is disturbed. There are different types of stones, but the most common type, the calcium type, form when there is a change in the calcium levels in urine.

Although the cause of stones may be difficult to pinpoint, there are some things that can increase risk of stones. For example:

  • Lack of fluids - If you don't drink enough water, substances in the urine are more likely to stick together and form stones. If you're at risk for stone disease or have a history of kidney stones, you should drink 2 to 3 liters of water (about half to three quarters of a gallon) every day. Ask your doctor if it's okay for you to drink fluids other than water to reach your fluid intake.
  • A diet high in protein, sodium and oxalate-rich foods - If you are susceptible to stones, you may want to reduce sodium and animal protein, eat plenty of calcium and avoid high-oxalate foods, like spinach, kale and nuts.
  • Medical conditions - Medical conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease and gout, can affect the normal balance of urine.
  • Weight - If you are overweight, you're at risk for both insulin resistance and increased calcium in your urine, and both of these things can lead to kidney stones.
  • Hormonal imbalance - Rarely, an increase in the hormones produced by the parathyroid glands can lead to hypercalcemia (too much calcium), which can cause stones to form.

Heredity is an important predictor for the development of kidney stones. If someone in your immediate family has had kidney stones, you are more likely to develop them as well.

Who's at risk for kidney stones?

Anyone can get kidney stones, but some people have an increased risk. For example:

  • Men (especially between the ages of 30 and 50) are more likely than women to get kidney stones.
  • Women who are post-menopausal or have had their ovaries removed are at increased risk.
  • People with a family history of kidney stones are more likely to have stone disease.
  • People who have a personal history of urinary tract infections (UTIs) have a higher risk.
  • Diseases such as gout, Crohn's disease and hyperparathyroidism increase risk of stone disease.
  • Insulin resistance can lead to stone disease, so people with diabetes are at higher risk.

Learn more about kidney stones