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The Link Between Urinary Tract Infection and Kidney Stones

Jan 3, 2024

The urinary system is responsible for making and expelling urine, which is made up of extra fluid and waste products. For urination to occur normally, all organs in the urinary tract need to work together in the correct order.

The urinary tract is made up of two ureters, two kidneys, a urethra, and the bladder. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) and kidney stones are both conditions affecting the urinary tract. Both these conditions can cause damage to the urinary system and require different treatments.

Key Points

  • Both UTIs and kidney stones have similar symptoms and may affect the same areas of the urinary tract.
  • Studies have shown that there is a mutual coexistence between these two conditions.
  • Seek help from a healthcare professional for diagnosis and a treatment plan.

Urinary Tract Infections

A UTI is a common infection that occurs in the urinary system. A UTI can affect any part of the urinary tract, but it most commonly affects the bladder, causing a bladder infection (cystitis). Another type of UTI that affects the kidneys is called pyelonephritis. This infection is less common than bladder infections but is more serious.

UTIs are more common in females, as their urethras are shorter than males, and thus their urethras are closer to the rectum, making it easier for bacteria to enter and reproduce in the urinary tract.

UTI causes

Most UTIs are caused by bacteria (most often from the digestive tract) that enter the urethra and move into the bladder. This bacterial infection generally develops in the bladder and may move into the kidneys. The most common causative bacteria of UTIs is E.coli, which generally lives in the colon.

UTI symptoms

Some people may not physically feel any symptoms. However, most people may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Urine has a strong odor
  • Blood-tinged or cloudy urine
  • A burning feeling during urination
  • Pressure, pain, or an aching feeling in the stomach (lower abdomen)
  • A persistent or urgent need to urinate, with only a few drops of urine passing

If the UTI spreads to the kidneys and becomes serious, the following symptoms may present:

  • Fever and chills
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Nausea and vomiting

How do you know if you have a UTI?

As the symptoms of a UTI are similar to other medical conditions, a healthcare provider will need to make a diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will perform a test called a urinalysis, where a sample of urine is taken to analyze which bacteria are causing the infection.

UTIs are treated with antibiotics that work to kill the bacteria and stop them from reproducing and spreading.

Does UTIs lead to kidney damage?

Normally, UTIs can be treated successfully without causing damage to the kidneys. Some cases, like a kidney stone or an enlarged prostate gland (in men), can cause kidney damage if the infection and condition are not corrected and continue.

In young children, if recurrent UTIs are left untreated, they can cause kidney damage. Thus, it is important to know how to recognize symptoms or signs of these infections and to seek professional medical care for your child.

Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are irregularly shaped solid crystals or masses that can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball. They affect organs in the urinary tract.

The stones start as crystals (in the kidneys), which form when there is a high concentration of waste in the blood and the body is not making enough urine. These crystals attract other chemicals and waste products, forming a solid object called a kidney stone. Kidney stones will continue to grow unless they are passed out of the body through the urine.

If a kidney stone doesn’t move through the urinary system, it can cause a backup of urine in the urethra, bladder, kidney, or ureter.

There are four main types of kidney stones:

  • Cystine stones
  • Uric acid stones
  • Calcium oxalate stones
  • Struvite stones

Causes of kidney stones

Anyone can get kidney stones, but some people have a higher risk than others. You may be more likely to develop a kidney stone if you:

  • Have low urine volume
  • Consume too much sodium (salt), sugar, or protein
  • Have obesity
  • Have had surgery on your intestines
  • Have medical conditions such as distal renal tubular acidosis or an abnormal growth of the parathyroid glands
  • Take medications such as calcium-based antacids or water pills (diuretics)
  • Have a family history of kidney stones (hereditary)
  • Have health problems that cause damage or swelling in the joints or digestive system
  • Have polycystic kidney disease
  • Have had kidney stones before

Kidney stone symptoms

Larger kidney stones that get stuck in the urinary tract block urine from flowing through. Symptoms may start to present, such as:

  • Burning sensation or pain when urinating
  • Smelly or cloudy urine
  • Sharp pain in the side or the back of the abdomen
  • An urge to urinate
  • Changing intensity of pain levels
  • Fever and chills
  • Blood in the urine

If the kidney stones are small, they may not cause any symptoms or pain as they pass out of the body in the urine. These kidney stones are called “silent stones.” There may be a lot of pain when passing a kidney stone or if a large kidney stone blocks urine from flowing.

How do you know if you have kidney stones?

If your healthcare provider suspects that you have kidney stones, they may do some tests to determine the size and type of kidney stone. Tests may include:

  • Blood tests to determine if there is too much uric acid or calcium in the blood
  • Imaging tests such as an ultrasound, x-ray, or CT scan to identify kidney stones in the urinary tract
  • Urine tests to determine the types of waste products in the urine

If you frequently get kidney stones, you may be required to urinate through a strainer to catch and collect the kidney stones that your body is making. The stones will be examined to determine what they are made of or to decide the best course of treatment.

Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size, type of stone, whether they cause pain, or whether the stone(s) is blocking the urinary tract. Alternative treatment options may be required if the kidney stone is blocking the urinary tract or if it is too large to pass out the body through the urine.

Do kidney stones lead to kidney damage?

Kidney stones may increase the risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD). Kidney damage only occurs if there is a serious or repeated infection, or if the kidney stones cause a blockage in the kidneys for an extended period of time. If some kidney stones are left untreated, they can cause the kidney to stop working.

Does UTI cause Kidney Stones?

Struvite kidney stones are strongly associated with UTIs that get into the urinary tract. These stones are caused by enzymes secreted by specific bacteria, can grow very large, and block the bladder, kidney, or ureter.

Studies have cited a mutual coexistence of UTIs and kidney stones, with data indicating that up to 36% of cases had this association. Thus, individuals who have kidney stones are at an increased risk of getting a UTI, and those who have a UTI are at an increased risk of getting kidney stones.

Panoramic Health

Panoramic Health is kidney care’s leading, integrated, provider group, delivering better outcomes for patients at a lower cost for all. We are a physician-led provider group with 16 years of experience managing and caring for patients across the CKD-ESRD spectrum.