Are Kidney Stones Genetic?

A kidney stone diagnosis may not seem like a big deal, but once the stone starts moving down the urinary tract, this condition can be quite painful. There are many factors that increase your risk for forming kidney stones, some of which you can control. However, you might have a family history of kidney stones that comes from an inherited condition, making you more prone to developing them.  

Kidneys are the "master chemists" of the body, says the National Kidney Foundation. Blood containing toxins and waste flows into the kidneys to be filtered (via National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases). This allows the body to maintain a healthy balance of minerals like sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and potassium. Once the blood is filtered, the kidneys send most of it back into the bloodstream, while the remaining fluid and waste flow out as urine.

If we're well hydrated, this all works well, but if we're under-hydrated, the lack of fluid can cause minerals like calcium, oxalate, urate, cystine, xanthine, and phosphate to crystallize and build up within the kidneys (via National Kidney Foundation). These deposits, also known as stones, can remain in the kidneys or pass through the ureter with the urine, which is sometimes painful. If kidney stones get stuck and cause a blockage in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra, it can cause extreme pain, blood in the urine, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, or cloudy urine. Typically they resolve on their own with hydration and sometimes medication. Only in extreme cases is surgery needed.

Why do kidney stones happen?

In some people, kidney stones may be caused by a genetic factor (via Ironwood Urology). You can inherit certain traits from your family members that make you more prone to developing kidney stones. Hypercalciuria, a condition where too much calcium builds up in the urine, is passed on genetically and often causes kidney stones. Hypocitraturia is another inherited condition where there's too little citrate passing through the urine, which means you're not as able to break down excess minerals. Additionally, cystinuria can be another genetic cause, which is when there's too much cysteine building up in the kidneys, ureter, or bladder.

However, kidney stones can also occur due to other things like diet, excess body weight, medications, or other medical conditions, according to the Mayo Clinic. You may be at a higher risk if you're often dehydrated, which leads to a concentration of minerals in the urine. Eating a high-sodium diet puts strain on the kidneys and can lead to the development of kidney stones. Obesity has also been linked to kidney stones, as well as digestive diseases like irritable bowel syndrome and chronic diarrhea. Some medications and supplements can also increase your risk, such as taking too much vitamin C, laxatives, calcium-based antacids, and certain medications for migraines or depression.