Causes and Risk Factors for Kidney Stones

Several factors increase the risk for developing kidney stones, including inadequate fluid intake and dehydration, reduced urinary volume, certain chemical levels in the urine that are too high (e.g., calcium, oxalate, uric acid) or too low (magnesium, citrate), and several medical conditions such as reflux, medullary sponge kidney, renal tubular acidosis and urinary tract infections (UTIs). Anything that blocks or reduces the flow of urine (e.g., urinary obstruction, genetic abnormalities) also increases the risk.

Chemical risk factors include high levels of the following in the urine:

  • Calcium (hypercalciuria)
  • Cystine (cystinuria; caused by a genetic disorder)
  • Oxalate (hyperoxaluria)
  • Uric acid (hyperuricosuria)
  • Sodium (hypernaturesis)

A low level of citrate (called hypocitraturia) is a risk factor for stones.

The following medical conditions are also risk factors for kidney stone disease:

  • Arthritis (painful joint inflammation)
  • Colitis (inflammation of the colon that causes chronic diarrhea, dehydration, and chemical imbalances)
  • Crohn's disease (intestinal disorder that causes chronic diarrhea, dehydration, and low citrate)
  • Gout (caused by excessive uric acid in the blood) which leads to high urinary uric acid levels
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Hyperparathyroidism (excessive parathyroid hormone, which causes calcium loss from bone)
  • Medullary sponge kidney (MSK; a congenital kidney defect associated with urinary tract infections, low urinary citrate levels, and increased urinary calcium loss)
  • Renal tubular acidosis (inherited condition in which the kidneys are unable to excrete acid)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs; affect kidney function and chemistry)
  • Inherited condition in which the kidneys are unable to excrete acid (renal tubular acidosis)

Publication Review By: Stephen W. Leslie, M.D., F.A.C.S., Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.

Published: 09 Jun 1998

Last Modified: 24 Sep 2015