Can kidney stones cause kidney failure?

Can kidney stones cause kidney failure cartoon

In addition to causing pain, can kidney stones actually cause permanent damage to your kidney? The unfortunate answer is yes, kidney stones in some cases can actually result in a “dead” kidney or kidney failure. The good news though is that this doesn’t happen very often and it often takes a long time to occur, providing the opportunity for treatment to occur before permanent damage occurs.

Kidney stones can cause kidney damage in two primary ways.

1) An untreated obstructing stone that causes persistent severe blockage instead of successfully passing can eventually cause atrophy in a kidney, resulting in a dilated, thinned out kidney with minimal function.

Thankfully, because most stones are associated with significant amounts of pain, most patients will seek treatment long before permanent damage can occur. However, in cases where patients have “silent” stones that cause little or no pain, long term obstruction can occasionally lead to kidney damage. With no symptoms to warn them, these patients often go months to years before a stone is diagnosed.

The CT scan below demonstrates a left kidney which has been damaged by a large obstructing left ureteral stone. For comparison, note the normal size right kidney. The patient did not have any symptoms of pain and the stone was found after the CT scan was obtained for the finding of blood in the urine.

CT scan of an atrophic left kidney from a ureteral stone

2) Infection related stones, usually composed of struvite and sometimes presenting as a complete “staghorn” can lead to ongoing chronic urinary tract infections that cause damage slowly through inflammation and scarring of the kidney tissue.

The CT scan below demonstrates an atrophic right kidney due to a large “staghorn” infection stone. This patient also has left kidney stones and presented with recurrent infections and left sided back pain.

CT scan of staghorn stone in an atrophic right kidney

How often do kidney stones cause kidney failure?

Cause of kidney failure in the United States (2009)

 

The most recent data from the United States Renal Data System indicates that “other urologic diseases” (which would include stones) was the cause in 2% of cases of kidney failure in the United States. The two most common causes of kidney failure were diabetes and high blood pressure. In the United States, there was a total of 571,414 Americans with kidney failure in 2009. 116,395 new cases of kidney failure developed during the year. Consistent with this US data, kidney stones were also reported to be the cause of kidney failure in 1 to 3% of all patients undergoing dialysis in two studies from France and Tunisia.

Chronic kidney disease occurs when the kidneys do not work normally. The kidneys’ job in the body is to filter blood, remove waste, and regulate salt and water. If chronic kidney disease is severe enough such that the kidneys stop working completely (>90% of function lost), it is called kidney failure or “end stage renal disease”.  In these cases, patients require replacement kidney treatment through dialysis or a kidney transplant.

One reason why kidney stones don’t often cause chronic kidney disease or failure more often is because in most cases, kidney stones will cause damage to only one kidney. Patients whose other kidney is healthy will usually not develop kidney failure. Exceptions to this can occur in cases of kidney stones affecting both kidneys, large infection stones occurring in both kidneys, certain congenital causes of kidney stones, and in patients with only one kidney (40% of patients with kidney failure from kidney stones in the study from France had only one functional kidney).

Stone types causing kidney failure in a study of 45 patients (Paris, France).

Stone Type Percentage of cases
Struvite (infection) 42.2%
Calcium based 26.7%
Uric acid 17.8%
Congenital (hyperoxaluria type 1and cystinuria) 13.3%

How can I avoid developing kidney damage from my stones?

The good news is that for the vast majority of kidney stone patients, significant kidney damage is unlikely. To be on the safe side, there are a few steps you can take.

  • If you develop a stone episode but do not pass a stone or undergo treatment within a few months, you may want to consider getting followup imaging with your doctor to insure that the stone has actually passed and is not causing persistent obstruction. This is more of a concern for larger stones (greater than 6mm or so).
  • Patients with large infection related stones (struvite) are at increased risk for kidney damage from their stones. They should be sure to have their stones treated and need followup to insure infections and stones do not return.
  • Work with your doctor to prevent future stones. A prevention plan may include testing for the reason why you are forming stones, diet changes, or in certain cases, medications.

References

Floege: Comprehensive Clinical Nephrology, 4th ed.

Jungers and colleagues, “ESRD caused by Nephrolithiasis: Prevalence, Mechanisms, and Prevention”. American Journal of Kidney Diseases 2004.

Ounissi and colleagues, “Nephrolithiais-induced end stage renal disease”. International Journal of Nephrology and Renovascular Disease.

U S Renal Data System, USRDS 2011 Annual Data Report: Atlas of Chronic Kidney Disease and End-Stage Renal Disease in the United States, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Bethesda, MD, 2011.

 

About Dr. Mike Nguyen

Mike M Nguyen, MD, MPH, is a urologist and an Associate Professor of Clinical Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, CA. He specializes in the treatment of kidney stones with both surgery and dietary prevention and the in the treatment of kidney and prostate cancer using the latest robotic surgical approaches. He sees patients at clinics located in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and La Canada, CA. He is the founder of the www.KidneyStoners.org website.
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168 Responses to Can kidney stones cause kidney failure?

  1. Rebecca Masondo says:

    I cured myself by drinking tomato juice every morning on empty stomach.

  2. Rebecca Masondo says:

    Had two operations to remove kidney stones caused by my horseshoe kidneys.I was advised to drink tomato juice evry morning on empty stomach.It’s now three years no stones bothered me

  3. Anwar Muashir says:

    Hi
    4 months ago I had mild pain in my right side, after ultra sound test, Dr. told me there is 5mm stone in my right ureter causing mild hydronephrosis in my right kidney, he proscribed me antibiotics and pain killers and advised to drink plenty of water. I went to 3 more doectors, all of them advised me to drink water and do jump rope so the stone can pass. Unfortunately none of them warn me about risk of losing my kidney due to blocked ureter, now the size of stone has increased and the stone is in my ureter for four months. I accidentally visited another Dr he told me that I need to drop stone by laser or any other procedure, I will fly to India from Afghanistan on Sunday to do surgery. I am too worried, except the first attack, I have not felt any pain, nor blood in my urine, My other kidney now gets mild pain from time to time. I have no infection. I am afraid if my right kidney has died. Do you have similar experience like mine? I am married having 2 children in war torn country Afghanistan. My family needs me. I am only 37 years old with no diabetic or high blood pressure.

    • nazia says:

      I am also in same boat.
      it has been 4 years that I have kidney stones and doctors in Afghanistan don’t pay attention. they say if it doesn’t bother u mostly just go on.
      I am 23 years old mother of one baby boy.
      i couldn’t do any thing cause I was not married to do surgery.
      no I am always worried that I will lose my both kidneys.
      I have 2 stones in one kidney and 1 in another
      6 mm. 8mm
      and also u have gallstones.
      plz some one advise me.

  4. I had surgery to remove kidney stones in my right kidney the doctor said the stone is huge and has to be removed I had surgery Aug 11 I want to fully heal doctor told me I have to have surgery again to remove the stones again doctor left the stent in me until my next surgery in September

  5. Nathan Wright says:

    I have kidney stone for 11 year now and I have a long history of blood pressures in my family and two of my family member have die from kidney failure will I get it

  6. Nathan Wright says:

    I have been having kidney stones for 11 year now and my family as a history of blood pressure and two of my family members have past after from kidney failure will have die from ir

  7. Bronwyn Bryan says:

    Hey I have a 7.7mm stone in my right side of my kidney is it normal to have kidney stones at a young ages I’m only 17 and got my first stone when I was 16!

    • Angel smith says:

      I got my first stone at 16 to they say its realy a young age im now 22 i hade 3 stones having my son the pain was unreal i dropped so much weight. Ive hade ive them 4 times now good luck and stay strong xx

  8. Dawn Houston says:

    I am a 53 year old woman. I’ve had kidney stones off and on since I was in my late 20’s. I’ve had the lipotripsy done went well. Had very little pain until one day .ran a huge fever. Was rushed to er and found out that I have 3 very large staghorns in my left kidney. Was told 5 years ago that nontreatment would lead to my early death. I haven’t gotten the surgery yet. The kidney shivers and bleeds.I have a constant toothache like pain. I also have an antibiotic resistant infection in that kidney. My question is how will I know if the kidney dies?.

  9. Kenny says:

    I had just remove a 10mm stone blocking my left kidney and found out to have many more small stone still inside my kidney. I think the real cause if that I like to drink soya milk and eat bean curd a lot. I had not stop other fluid intake and only drink 10 glasses of plain water. feeling better now.

  10. Julie ward says:

    I currently have a .6 cm kidney stone in left ureter and 3 in kidney. 3 years ago I had 5 stones and 1 was .9cm and I had to have a Stent in for 5 days until they could get me in for lithoripscy. It seemed to be worse pain then just with the stones.

  11. Tana says:

    My husband suffers from kidney stones only in his right kidney. He has gone through surgeries every 3-5 years for the stones and continues to have stones build up. He is currently going on his 3rd surgery for this last stone since April 4th 2017. This last stone has been the biggest he has ever had and the doctor says its the biggest he has ever dealt with. This staghorn stone took up 80% of his right kidney and they just keep getting bigger every time he has to go in for surgery. He is getting so tired of dealing with this and we have tried every resource that has been given to us to try to stop him from building stones. Any suggestions on what we should do? He is at the point where he would just chance it and has his right kidney taken out. Any information is greatly appreciated. Thank You!

    • Russell Leavitt says:

      This may sound far fetched but it won’t hurt to find out if what I am telling you will work for him. My wife had kidney stones every month for about three years and was being treated at the VA Hospital in Salt Lake City Utah. The Doctors there pass cases to other Doctors that may have more or different experiences or training. An Indian Dr. asked my wife if she would let him put a scope in her nose and down her throat? She told him her problem was a bit lower than that and he said please just trust me. She let him run the scope and they found tumors on her parathyroid. Surgery was scheduled and the thyroid was removed. She has never had another kidney stone. This was about 10 years ago.
      Now year later her uncle was having kidney stones and called my wife to see what exactly had happened to her. After explaining what the Dr. had done to her, her uncle went to his Dr. and told him what she had said. The next day that Dr. called my wife to talk to her first hand as to what had happened. He then contacted the VA Hospital to find the Dr. who had done her surgery and had it explained to him by her Dr. and followed through with her uncle and ended up taking his thyroid out and he has gone from 75 % kidney failure to near full function. This was done in 2016. Please feel free to contact my wife or I if there is anything that we can explain better or give you information on. I will give you my phone # if you e-mail me.

      • Nadine says:

        I was diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism about 7 years ago. Went close to 2 years with chronic kidney stones and had to undergo surgical removal of stones sometime up to 4 times a month. OUCH! Never had them before or any history in the family. Just started up one day. It wasn’t until a simple blood test detected that my parathyroid/calcium levels were through the roof and that a tumor had grown on one of my parathyroid glands. Once one gland is affected all 4 glands will shut down.
        Once I had the offending tumor and gland removed, things started going back to normal. Took about a year to actually feel somewhat normal again. Still passing stones the residual stones occasionally that had been in the kidney since then.

      • Ian Smail says:

        Hello I’m having chronic kidney stones and am only 31 I’ve had over 6 in the last 9 months one of which was 6mm. I actually passed this one somehow in the ER. Almost every dr working that night had to come and see it bc they had never seen that size passed the “natural” way, mind you for there was nothing natural about. However I would love mpre information on the thyroid contributing to the stones…please any help would be appreciated.

      • Jesiegeorge says:

        My daughter who is now 30yrs of age has Renal tubular Acidosis Type 1.Both her kidneys are covered with stones and now she is passing stones to about 5 stones a week. I am from India, chennai.
        I too realize it is something to do with the parathyroid gland. Could you give me the docter’s no so I could contact him to know if it is hypo parathyroid or hyper parathyroid.Thank you and sorry to bother you.regards Jesie george
        My email id is jesiegeorge@rediff.com

    • eden edward says:

      Hi there it’s eden from Ethiopia, I have read your comment above do you believe in God? Are you a Christian? If so, let me tell you what I have witnessed in a wholly Water place found in Ethiopia orthodox church many people get curred including myself from kidney stones and many other diseases so please if you can bring your husband and baptism him and drink the hollywater I assure you he will get curred. Or if you have a Posta address I will send you some to drink if you see any change please come and see the miracle. Thanks.

      • Robert Brown says:

        YES I BELIEVE IN GOD AND HIS HEALING POWERS, I HAVE KIDNEY STONE PROBLEMS AND MANY OTHER PROBLEMS, I WOULD LIKE TO RECEIVED THE Prayers AND HEALING WATERS THAT COME ONLY FROM GOD, PLEASE INFORM ME OF WHAT IS REQUIRED OF ME, PRAISE THE LORD!

    • Paula says:

      I was having kidney stones almost on a yearly basis and some quite large. Found out all the water from my area is full of limestone and calcium. Started drinking only bottled water with no anything added and haven’t had a stone since. However, the previous stones damaged my kidneys past the point of repair. Nutrition is my only way and medical cannabis in the edible form is what has kept me off dialysis and still functioning on this earth. Maybe this will help your husband.

    • baso says:

      Tell him to take:
      . 2 grams of real saafran .
      .100 grams of real ingrinded cumen .
      Put it a 5 litters of mineral water
      Let that mixture 24 h . Then clean water from résidus and drink it for two days.
      The stones will dessolve and feel no pain.
      That s what i had done with my renal calculs.

  12. Syed sana says:

    Hi i have 5mm stone In my right side kidney can in future they cause kidney failure

  13. Troy says:

    So it seems this has possibly happened to me as I go in to find out today. I developed stone 8mm first one ever, did surgery after putting it off a few months. But started to have blood and protein in urine and did the laser litho and passed a couple small stones afterwards. 5 mos later, had blood again went back for x ray and founs another 5mm stone. Dr said lets watch it. 2 mos later have blood again go in and they want to schedule scope and contrast MRI. Blood was in mid Dec 16, I declined contrast dye and the nurse said to come in for your scope in 3 weeks and do that and discuss with DR. So Dr orders without contrast Dye 3 more weeks for apt and results. 6mm in ureterer but no swelling of Kidney mentioned. He asked how long and I had no idea. Does 1 week x ray and no movement. So schedule surgery for about 10 days out. By this time it is early March and stone may have been there for 3 mos by that time. He said is was basically wedged in side of ureterer, afterwards had stent for 1 to 2 weeks along with xray, which was awful but after stent removed much relief, no blood and better urine flow, nothing mentioned about X ray of kidney, no issues other than a couple stone fragments I should pass. One month later do my 24 hour urine test to see what is causing stones and go in for X ray and results today, however the day after xray which was yesterday I receive call from radiology about coming in for an ultrasound. Had no idea they were ordering it and the x ray guy took far more x rays than normal or other times. So figured given that in the last week I just developed many symptoms of pain in Kidney, low urine flow and amount, constant need to urinate, bubbles in urine/ protein more than before that the kidney has began to fail. Pulse and blood pressure have been up also. Also having pain now and then in other kidney also. Hoping for a miracle. 47 yrs old with 2 kids at home and wife. Didn’t hardly sleep last night, took day off, have to work tomorrow but not sure I will be able to after the news from the Dr and wife is away on work until tomorrow so no support here today or tonight. If it has failed or is damaged, hopefully other one is good and does not deteriorate from Kidney disease or anything else. Praying for the best as my family needs me and I want to see my children grow.

    • RENFRU MULDOON says:

      Go to an ENT doctor and have him/her check for excessive calcium in the blood. You might have a parathyroid problem.

  14. DAve richards says:

    Just had lithotripsy on my right kidney it had a 5mm stone. HAve to go back and have the same procedure done on left kidney which has a 7mm stone in it. Since both kidneys are producing stones, do I run the risk of kidney damage or failure?

  15. Pingback: Can You Get Kidney Stones In Your Gallbladder | How to Cure Gallbladder Stone

  16. victor cajag says:

    we have a herbal remedy how to get it off your kidney stone with out udergoing a operation

  17. Angela Suratt says:

    I had a 4.1cm stone in my left kidney and a 3cm stone in my right. I began treatment 1yr and 2mo ago. 6 litho.sound wave procedures and 3 lazer, basket procedures on my left we think its finally clear. I go tomorrow for my 2nd lazer basket on right side. Im concerned all these procedures accompanied by the length of time will do more damage than if they had cut them out. What can i do?

  18. Dave qiirt says:

    I have been diagnosed of a large stone blocking my kidney took a p.e.t.ct 2 months ago took this long for doc to get results he had to call after I called him after 2 month wait they failed Iowa send test to dr who requested test could this possibly caused damage to my kidney

  19. Cheryl Johnson says:

    I had a 3 cm struvite stone in my left kidney. Now a year after its renoval and the still constant infections and stones, I am having my left kidney removed. My right functions perfectly. My urologist said instead of running 50/50 they are running 85/16 so its like I have one kidney anyways right now.

  20. Rajeshwari Ohal says:

    For 20years I am suffering from kidney stones which are of calcium oxylate can in future they cause kidney failure

  21. Pathan Romana says:

    Hii i have 24 mm stone in my left kidney and the right is invisible

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