Kidney Stones vs. Gallstones: What Are The Major Differences?

If we are being honest, it is a little weird that our bodies make stones of any kind. Stones feel too geological, like something that should only belong on a mountain or the in the backyard. Yet many people suffer from two types of stones each year: kidney stones and gallstones.

Both of these types of stones are hard deposits found in the human body. They sort of even look alike. And pain is their #1 symptom.

So what’s the difference and how do you know which you have?

Turns out that kidney stones and gallstones actually have quite a few differences – including unique pain regions and other symptoms. So I’m going to give you a full run down on each of these bodily stones.

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are small, hardened deposits that form in the kidneys.

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The size of a kidney stone can range from a sugar crystal to a ping-pong ball.

Since your kidneys are one of the body’s main filtering systems, lots of different minerals run through them. When these minerals build up, they can form a stone. There are actually different types of kidney stones, depending upon what type of minerals have created the deposit:

  • Calcium stones: These stones are the most common types of kidney stones formed when you have too much calcium – and oxalate – found in your urine
  • Uric acid stones: These stones come with too much uric acid in the urine, which often happens when people do not drink enough water or they lose too much water (like athletes who sweat a lot).
  • Struvite stones: These stones are typically connected with UTIs
  • Cystine stones: These stones typically come from some sort of genetic disorder

If kidney stones run in your family, you are more likely to develop them too. And some other medical conditions play a role, like inflammatory bowel disease or hyperparathyroidism. But most of the risk factors center on lifestyle choices that you can control.

You are more likely to develop kidney stones if you:

What Are Gallstones?

Gallstones are hard deposits that form within the gallbladder.

The size of a gallstone can range from a grain of sand to a golf ball.

The gallbladder’s main function is to store bile. When too many substances like fat, cholesterol, or bilirubin build up in the bile, a gallstone can form. This can also happen when your gallbladder malfunctions and does not empty the bile in the right way.

Like kidney stones, there is not only one type of gallstone. You can have:

  • Cholesterol gallstones: These are the most common stone and normally made up of mostly – as you guessed it – cholesterol
  • Pigment gallstones: These are less common and form when your bile has too much bilirubin

Women are at higher risk for developing gallstones (including pregnant women). And once you get over the age of 40, it is more likely for both men and women. Diabetes and liver disease also play a role in gallstones. Those of Native American or Mexican-American descent tend to have more gallstones than other ethnicities.

Some lifestyle factors that can lead to gallstones are:

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  • Sitting or lying down too often
  • Eating too much fat and cholesterol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Not eating enough fiber

What Are Kidney Stone Symptoms?

Without a doubt, the first and most glaring symptom of a kidney stone is pain. It is normally quite severe and you can feel it in your:

  • Side
  • Back
  • Lower ribs
  • Grain
  • Lower abdomen

You may also experience symptoms that are similar to a urinary tract infection. This include:

  • Pain or burning when you urinate
  • Frequent urgency to urinate, though little may come out
  • Blood in your urine (may look pink or brown)
  • Cloudy urine
  • Foul-smelling urine

What Are Gallstone Symptoms?

You may have a gallstone – or multiple gallstones – and never even realize it. Many times, they are asymptomatic.

But when they do show up on your radar, here is what you can expect:

  • Intense (and intensifying) pain in the upper right of your abdomen, breast bone, area between the shoulder blades, or right shoulder
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Indigestion/burping
  • Clay-colored stool

As you can see, gallstones and kidney stones share pain as their #1 symptom, but the location of that pain is quite different. Kidney stone pain is typically located a lot lower than gallstone pain.

Kidney Stone Treatments

Many times doctors will use the “watch and wait” approach to see what your kidney stone does. If it is small enough to pass through the urethra on its own, no serious medical intervention is needed (other than some painkillers!). If they choose this method you should drink plenty of water to help it move as quickly and easily as possible.

When the doctor feels like there will be complications from the kidney stone passing on its own, the stone can be broken down into smaller pieces using medical technology like shock waves. Then those small pieces can pass normally.

In rarer cases, the kidney stone is too large or there is some other complication, so they kidney stone will have to be entirely removed through surgery. Sometimes this is full surgery; sometimes they only use a scope.

Gallstone Treatments

Some gallstone treatments are just like kidney stone treatments. Your doctor may choose to just “watch and wait” to see if the gallstone dissolves or moves on its own. And it is possible they could give you medical intervention that helps break your gallstone.

But that’s where the similarities end. The most common gallstone treatment is surgery.

If you suffer from gallstones, the doctor may choose to actually remove your gallbladder altogether. While this may seem like an extreme answer to a problem, the gallbladder is not necessary for you to lead a long, healthy, happy life.

Obviously the surgery aspect really sets kidney stone and gallstone treatment apart, since nobody will be removing your kidneys to deal with stones.

One Shared Natural Treatment

As you have seen throughout most of this article, kidney stones and gallstones may both be “stones” – but that does not mean they have much in common.

But there is an exception.

Chanca Piedra (which is translated as “Stone Breaker” in English) is an all-natural herb that has been shown to help break down both kidney stones and gallstones, so they are easier to deal with. This is a safe, effective option with no known side effects. So no matter your stone type, it could be a great help for you!

Do You Have A Kidney Stone Or Gallstone?

Hopefully all this information has helped you understand the differences in kidney stones and gallstones.

Of course, if you are exhibiting any sort of intense pain you should head to the doctor to get a firm diagnosis. Since most treatments for kidney stones and gallstones are quite different, it is important to know what you have with total certainty.

Sources:
https://www.webmd.com/kidney-stones/ss/slideshow-kidney-stones-overview
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/home/ovc-20231394
https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/gallstones/symptoms-causes/dxc-20231395
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21176271