Urinary calculi are solid particles in the urinary system. They may cause pain, nausea, vomiting, hematuria, and, possibly, chills and fever due to secondary infection. Diagnosis is based on urinalysis and radiologic imaging, usually noncontrast helical CT. Treatment is with analgesics, antibiotics for the infection, medical expulsive therapy, and, sometimes, shock wave lithotripsy or endoscopic procedures.
Large calculi remaining in the renal parenchyma or renal collecting system are often asymptomatic unless they cause obstruction and/or infection. Severe pain, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting, usually occurs when calculi pass into the ureter and cause acute obstruction. Sometimes gross hematuria also occurs.
Pain (renal colic) is of variable intensity but is typically excruciating and intermittent, often occurs cyclically, and lasts 20 to 60 minutes. Nausea and vomiting are common. Pain in the flank or kidney area that radiates across the abdomen suggests upper ureteral or renal pelvic obstruction. Pain that radiates along the course of the ureter into the genital region suggests lower ureteral obstruction. Suprapubic pain along with urinary urgency and frequency suggests a distal ureteral, ureterovesical, or bladder calculus (see Obstructive Uropathy: Symptoms and Signs).
On examination, patients may be in obvious extreme discomfort, often ashen and diaphoretic. Patients with renal colic may be unable to lie still and may pace, writhe, or constantly shift position. The abdomen may be somewhat tender on the affected side as palpation increases pressure in the already-distended kidney (costovertebral angle tenderness), but peritoneal signs (guarding, rebound, rigidity) are lacking.
The calculus is obtained by straining the urine (or, if necessary, during operative removal) and sent to the laboratory for stone analysis. Some calculi are brought in by patients. Urine specimens that show microscopic crystals are sent for crystallography.
In patients with a single calcium calculus and no additional risk factors for calculi, evaluation to exclude hyperparathyroidism is sufficient. Evaluation entails urinalysis and determination of plasma calcium concentration on 2 separate occasions. Predisposing factors, such as recurrent calculi, a diet high in animal protein, or use of vitamin C or D supplements, should be sought.
Patients with a strong family history of calculi, conditions that might predispose to calculi formation (eg, sarcoidosis, bone metastases, multiple myeloma), or conditions that would make it difficult to treat calculi (eg, solitary kidney, urinary tract anomalies) require evaluation for all possible causative disorders and risk factors. This evaluation should include serum electrolytes, uric acid, and calcium on 2 separate occasions. Follow-up determination of parathyroid hormone levels is done if necessary. Urine tests should include routine urinalysis and 2 separate 24-hour urine collections to determine urine volume, pH, and excretion of calcium, uric acid, citrate, oxalate, sodium, and creatinine.