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What Are Staghorn Calculi?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Staghorn calculi, more commonly called struvite stones or infection stones, are a type of kidney stone. These are hard deposits of minerals formed in the body's kidneys. While staghorn calculi are generally a more serious type of kidney stone because they can grow very large, they also occur less commonly than other types. They typically require medical treatment, because they can be too large to pass out of the body via urination. Treatment can include medications and sound wave therapy or surgery to remove the stones.

The cause of this type of kidney stone is an underlying infection. Often, a patient will have a urinary tract infection and then staghorn calculi will form in response to the bacteria. Women are more likely to get these kidney stones than men, because they tend to get more urinary tract infections. Other risk factors can include a family history or a personal history of frequently getting kidney stones.

One of the most obvious symptoms is pain. The patient may notice pain during urination, as well as a persistent need to urinate. They may also have severe pain below the ribs in their backs and sides, or pain in the groin or lower abdomen. Staghorn calculi can also cause fever and chills, as well as nausea and vomiting. Patients may also notice that their urine has turned brown, pink, or red.

Some types of kidney stones can be passed naturally through the urine, aided by the consumption of large amounts of water. Staghorn calculi tend to be too large to deal with in this manner. The doctor will usually prescribe antibiotics to address the underlying infection and clear bacteria from the body. Patients who experience severe pain may also be prescribed a pain reliever, such as prescription-strength naproxen.

A commonly used, non-invasive treatment for staghorn calculi is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy. This is a type of therapy that utilizes sound waves that can divide the stones into smaller pieces, which may then be passed through the urine. The patient may be sedated prior to the procedure to minimize discomfort. It is likely that patients will require more than one treatment to sufficiently break up the stones.

Sometimes, the struvite stones must be manually removed. A non-surgical option is to have the doctor pass a uteroscope, a thin tube with a camera, through the urethra until it reaches the stone. He can then grasp the stones and remove them, or break them into small enough pieces so that they may pass out of the body.

If these are not viable options or they are not successful, surgery may be required. A percutaneous nephrolithotomy is a surgical procedure that requires an incision in the back. The surgeon will then insert small instruments into the kidney to remove the stones.

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