Urology & Andrology
Urology is the field of medicine that focuses on the urinary tracts of males and females, and on the reproductive system of males. In men, the urinary system overlaps with the reproductive system, and in women the urinary tract opens into the vulva. In both sexes, the urinary and reproductive tracts are close together, and disorders of one often affect the other. The organs covered by urology include the kidneys, ureters, urinary bladder, urethra, and the male reproductive organs (testes, epididymis, vas deferens, seminal vesicles, prostate and penis).
The discipline combines management of medical (i.e., non-surgical) problems such as urinary infections, and surgical problems such as the correction of congenital abnormalities and the surgical management of cancers. Such abnormalities within the genital region are called genitourinary disorders.
Other subfields of urology include urologic oncology, stone disease, voiding dysfunction, pediatric urology, sexual dysfunction and male infetility.
Urology is closely related to the medical fields of nephrology, andrology, gynaecology, proctology and oncology.
Investigation and diagnosis
Diagnosis is usually made on the basis of the location and severity of the pain, which is typically colic in nature (comes and goes in spasmodic waves). Radiological imaging is used to confirm the diagnosis and a number of other tests can be undertaken to help establish both the possible cause and consequences of the stone. Ultrasound imaging is also useful as it will give details about the presence of hydronephrosis (swelling of the kidney - suggesting the stone is blocking the outflow of urine). It can also be used to show the kidneys during pregnancy when standard x-rays are discouraged. About 10% of stones do not have enough calcium to be seen on standard x-rays (radiolucent stones) and may show up on ultrasound although they typically are seen on CT scans. The relatively dense calcium renders these stones radio-opaque and they can be detected by a traditional X-ray of the abdomen that includes Kidneys, Ureters and Bladder—KUB. This may be followed by an IVP (Intravenous Pyelogram; IntraVenous Urogram (IVU) is the same test by another name) which requires about 50ml of a special dye to be injected into the bloodstream that is excreted by the kidneys and by its density helps outline any stone on a repeated X-ray. These can also be detected by a Retrograde pyelogram where similar "dye" is injected directly into the ureteral opening in the bladder by a surgeon, usually a urologist. Computed tomography (CT or CAT scan), a specialized X-ray, is considered the gold-standard diagnostic test for the detection of kidney stones, and in this setting does not require the use of intravenous contrast, which carries some risk in certain people (eg, allergy, kidney damage). All stones are detectable by CT except very rare stones composed of certain drug residues in urine. The non-contrast "renal colic study" CT scan has become the standard test for the immediate diagnosis of flank pain typical of a kidney stone. If positive for stones, a single standard x-ray of the abdomen (KUB) is recommended. This additional x-ray provides the physicians with a clearer idea of the exact size and shape of the stone as well as its surgical orientation. Further, it makes it simple to follow the progress of the stone without the need for the much more expensive CT scan just by doing another single x-ray at some point in the future. Investigations typically carried out include:
An 8-mm kidney stone.
90% of stones 4 mm or less in size usually will pass spontaneously, however the majority of stones greater than 6 mm will require some form of intervention. In most cases, a smaller stone that is not symptomatic is often given up to 30 days to move or pass before consideration is given to any surgical intervention as it's been found that waiting longer tends to lead to additional complications. Immediate surgery may be required in certain situations such as in people with only one working kidney, intractable pain or in the presence of an infected kidney blocked by a stone which can rapidly cause severe sepsis and toxic shock.
Management of pain from kidney stones varies from country to country and even from physician to physician, but may require intravenous medication (eg, narcotic or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories) in acute situations. Similar classes of drugs may be effective orally in an outpatient setting for less severe discomfort. Intravenous ketorolac (Toradol) has been found to be quite effective in many cases of acute renal colic to control the pain without the need for narcotic medications. Ketorolac is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory that is related to aspirin and ibuprofen. Most acute kidney stone pain will last less than 24 hours and not require hospitalization. Patients are encouraged to strain their urine so they can collect the stone when it eventually passes and send it for chemical composition analysis.
In many cases non-invasive Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy or (ESWL) may be used. Otherwise some form of invasive procedure is required; with approaches including ureteroscopic fragmentation (or simple basket extraction if feasible) using laser, ultrasonic or mechanical (pneumatic, shock-wave) forms of energy to fragment the stones. Percutaneous nephrolithotomy or open surgery may ultimately be necessary for large or complicated stones or stones which fail other less invasive attempts at treatment. A single retrospective study in the USA, at the Mayo Clinic, has suggested that lithotripsy may increase subsequent incidence of diabetes and hypertension, but it has not been felt warranted to change clinical practice at the clinic. The study reflects early experience with the original lithotripsy machine which had a very large blast path, much larger than what is used on modern machines. Further study is believed necessary to determine how much risk this treatment actually has using modern machines and treatment regimens.
Prevention Preventive strategies include dietary modifications and sometimes also taking drugs with the goal of reducing excretory load on the kidneys: Drinking enough water to make 2 to 2.5 liters of urine per day. Aquaretics A diet low in protein, nitrogen and sodium intake.
Restriction of oxalate-rich foods and maintainance of an adequate intake of dietary calcium. There is equivocal evidence that calcium supplements increase the risk of stone formation, though calcium citrate appears to carry the lowest, if any, risk.
Taking drugs such as thiazides, potassium citrate, magnesium citrate and allopurinol, depending on the cause of stone formation.
Depending on the stone formation disease, vitamin B-6 and orthophosphate supplements may be helpful, although these treatments are generally reserved for those with Hyperoxaluria. Cellulose supplements have also shown potential for reducing kidney stones caused by hypercalciuria (excessive urinary calcium) although today other means are generally used as cellulose therapy is associated with significant side effects.
Certain foods may increase the risk of stones: spinach, rhubarb, chocolate, peanuts, cocoa, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, apple juice, soft drinks (which are acidic and contain phosphorus), and berries, due to high levels of oxalate/ oxalic acid. In the United States, the South has the highest incidence of kidney stones, since it is a region where apple juice consumption is very common. Other drinks are associated with decreased risk of stones, including wine, lemonade and orange juice, the latter two of which are rich in citrate, a stone inhibitor. Although it has been claimed that the diuretic effects of alcohol can result in dehydration, which is important for kidney stones sufferers to avoid, there are no conclusive data demonstrating any cause and effect regarding kidney stones. However, some have theorized that frequent and binge drinkers create situations that set up dehydration, (alcohol consumption, hangovers, and poor sleep and stress habits). In this view, it is not the alcohol that creates a kidney stone but it is the alcohol drinker's associated behavior that sets it up.
One of the recognized medical therapies for prevention of stones is thiazides, a class of drugs usually thought of as diuretic. These drugs prevent stones through an effect independent of their diuretic properties: they reduce urinary calcium excretion. Nonetheless, their diuretic property does not preclude their efficacy as stone preventive. Sodium restiction is necessary for clinical effect of thiazides, as sodium excess promotes calcium excretion. Though some have said that the effect probably fades after two years or so of therapy (tachyphylaxis), in fact it is only randomized controlled trials lasting 2 years or more that show the effect; there is really no good evidence from studies of calcium metabolism that the thiazide effect does not last indefinitely. Thiazides are the medical therapy of choice for most cases of hypercalciuria (excessive urinary calcium) but may not be suitable for all calcium stone formers; just those with high urinary calcium levels. Allopurinol (Zyloprim) is another drug with proven benefits in some calcium kidney stone formers. Allopurinol interferes with the liver's production of uric acid. Hyperuricosuria, too much uric acid in the urine, is a risk factor for calcium stones. Allopurinol reduces calcium stone formation in such patients. The drug is also used in patients with gout or hyperuricemia, but hyperuricosuria is not the critical feature of uric acid stones. Uric acid stones are more often caused by low urine pH. Even relatively high uric acid excretion will not be associated with uric acid stone formation if the urine pH is alkaline. Therefore prevention of uric acid stones relies on alkalinization of the urine with citrate. Allopurinol is reserved for patients in whom alkalinization is difficult. For patients with increased uric acid levels and calcium stones, alloprinol is one of the few treatments that has been shown in double-blinded placebo controlled studies to actually reduce kidney stone recurrences.Dosage is adjusted to maintain a reduced urinary excretion of uric acid. Serum uric acid level at or below 6 mg/dL is often the goal of the drug's use in patients with gout or hyperuricemia. Potassium citrate is also used in kidney stone prevention. This is available as both a tablet and liquid preparation. The medication increases urinary pH (makes it more alkaline), as well as increases the urinary citrate level, which helps reduce calcium oxalate crystal aggregation. Optimal 24 hour urine levels of citrate are thought to be over 320 mg/liter of urine or over 600 mg per day. There are urinary dipsticks available that allow patients to monitor and measure urinary pH so patients can optimize their urinary citrate level.
Though caffeine does acutely increase urinary calcium excretion, several independent epidemiologic studies have shown that coffee intake overall is protective for stones. Measurements of food oxalate content have been difficult and issues remain about the proportion of oxalate that is bio-available, versus a proportion that is not absorbed by the intestine. Oxalate-rich foods are usually restricted to some degree, particularly in patients with high urinary oxalate levels, but no randomized controlled trial of oxalate restriction has been performed to test that hypothesis.
For those patients interested in optimizing their kidney stone prevention options, it's essential to have a 24 hour urine test performed. This should be done with the patient on his or her regular diet and activities. The results can then be analyzed for abnormalities and appropriate treatment given.
Though not a "cure", ease can sometimes be found during "mild" pain by walking (if possible), preferably in cold air.