What you need to know about Urine crystals

Urine crystals turn if one person’s urine contains too many minerals. Sometimes, they happen in the kidneys.

If one or more minerals build up excessively, a urine crystal may form into a stone.

Usually, when large enough stones form, urine crystals may cause minimal signs and symptoms. When this occurs, the stone can simply pass out of the body or some medical intervention may be required to help extract the stone.

Here, we look at some of the most common types of urine crystals, including their causes, symptoms and possibilities for treatment.

Signs and symptoms

Someone with urine crystals may experience lower back pain on one side.

Small crystals in the urine may not always cause symptoms. A person with larger urinary stones or stones passing through the urinary tract, however, can experience a number of unpleasant symptoms including:

  • blood in the urine
  • nausea
  • lower back pain on either the left or right side
  • frequent urge to urinate
  • difficulty passing urine
  • burning sensation while urinating
  • pelvic pain and discomfort
  • cloudy urine
  • foul smelling urine
  • fever, if the stone has caused an infection

What causes them to form?

When excessive amounts of minerals are present in urine, urine crystals form. For different reasons different types of urine crystals form.

Eating too high a diet in protein or salt can sometimes cause crystals to form in the urine. Dehydration from not consuming enough fluids can also cause urine crystals to form.

An underlying health condition may in some cases cause urine crystals, and the person will need treatment for the condition.

Types

There are many different types of crystals in the urine. The type of urine crystal depends on the difference between the chemicals that make up the crystal and the underlying cause of the accumulation.

Some of the most common types of urine crystals that can occur in a urine test are as follows:

Struvite

Struvite is a type of urine crystal in which phosphate, ammonium, magnesium, and calcium are present.

Struvite usually occurs as a result of an infection with the urinary tract (UTI) or when a person has difficulty emptying his bladder.

Uric acid stones

The primary cause of these stones is highly acidic urine according to a study on uric acid stones. The authors also note that less prevalent causes may include:

  • a high level of uric acid
  • low urine volume
  • metabolic syndrome, which is several conditions that occur together and increase a person’s risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stroke
  • gout, which is pain and inflammation due to an excess of uric acid
  • excess protein

Treatment for uric acid stones typically involves changes in diet and an increase in daily intake of liquids.

Calcium oxalate

The calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stone according to the National Kidney Foundation. Such stones may be formed by getting too much oxalate in the urine.

Oxalate is a natural chemical found in a number of foodstuffs. The kidneys absorb oxalate through the urine, as a person digests foods.

If a person is not well hydrated, chemicals will bind together and produce a stone that may eventually pass through the kidney or become trapped.

Many individuals are at greater risk of developing calcium oxalate stones than others do. Factors at risk include:

  • digestive diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or Crohn’s disease
  • obesity
  • a diet high in protein, sodium, sugar, or oxalate
  • dehydration
  • other medical conditions, such as Dent’s disease

Cystine stones

Cystine stones are another type of stone that forms in the urinary tract or kidneys. Cystine stones are typically larger than other kidney stones, and tend to recur, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Cystinuria is responsible for the cystine stones. Cystinuria is a disorder in which a substance called cystine enters the urine of a human. A stone can form when there is too much in it.

Cystinuria is a genetic disorder, and it is not common.

What conditions and complications can they cause?

A person is at risk of developing complications when urine crystals turn into stones. Some risks with bigger, untreated stones, the National Kidney Foundation says, include:

  • blockage of the ureter
  • damage to the kidneys
  • damage to the bladder
  • kidney infections
  • UTIs

If the crystals do not turn into stones, or if the stones are small enough, they pass out in their urine from a person’s body. Smaller stones may or may not cause symptoms, and the complications are unlikely.

When to see a doctor

Not all crystals in the urine merit a doctor’s flight. Nevertheless, if a person has any urinary symptoms, such as discomfort, frequent urination or fever, they should see their doctor.

A person should also see their urine crystals doctor if they are getting them regularly. The dietary changes can be beneficial. In some cases care may be required for an underlying health problem to help prevent future stones from forming.

Diagnosis

According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a doctor will usually order a 24-hour examination of urine after a stone falls or is treated.

The person will collect samples of their urine over 24 hours during this examination which will go to a laboratory for analysis. The results will help the doctor determine if the person produces enough urine in a day and if their urine contains too many minerals.

A doctor will probably inquire about the symptoms of the individual, too. We will order more tests to check for other underlying health conditions.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type of stone a individual has formed, or is likely to develop. A doctor can prescribe over- the-counter pain relievers in some cases, and encourage the person to increase their intake of fluid to help flush out the stone.

If the stone is too heavy a doctor may need to help break it up. We can use various methods to break up a larger stone including:

  • shock wave lithotripsy, which breaks the stone into small pieces
  • cystoscopy and ureteroscopy, which allow the doctor to find and break up or remove a larger stone
  • percutaneous nephrolithotomy, which also allows the doctor to view and remove a larger stone

Prevention

Drinking enough water and remaining well hydrated throughout the day helps prevent crystals from developing in the urine.

If a person consumes too much of a certain mineral, a doctor will probably prescribe a diet that minimizes or removes the mineral in question.

However, a doctor can prescribe medication or treatment to help prevent stone forming. Many pharmaceutical products and supplements a doctor may recommend include:

  • potassium citrate
  • antibiotics
  • diuretics
  • allopurinol, for uric acid
  • mercaptopropionyl glycine, which doctors often use to treat heart issues

Outlook

Urine crystals aren’t a cause of concern. With minimal intervention they can in many cases move on their own.

Many have benign problems that are preventable, such as fatigue or excessive consumption of a certain food.

A doctor can prescribe extra fluid intake and medications to dull pain if people require care. In some cases, a doctor can extract the stone if the stone is huge, and in a potentially harmful location.

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