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Cystinuria is a rare genetic disorder that affects the kidneys and leads to the formation of recurrent kidney stones. It is characterized by the presence of high levels of the amino acid cystine in the urine, which can crystallize and form stones in the urinary tract. This condition can cause various symptoms, including urinary tract infections, blood in the urine, frequent urination, and abdominal pain.

Understanding Cystinuria

Cystinuria is an inherited condition that is caused by mutations in the genes responsible for the transport of cystine in the kidneys. Normally, the kidneys reabsorb cystine from the urine and prevent its accumulation. However, in individuals with cystinuria, the reabsorption process is impaired, leading to the buildup of cystine in the urine.

As cystine accumulates, it can form crystals and eventually solidify into stones. These stones can vary in size and may cause blockages in the urinary tract, leading to pain and discomfort. The recurrent nature of kidney stones is a hallmark of cystinuria, with some individuals experiencing multiple episodes throughout their lives.

Recognizing the Symptoms

Recurrent Kidney Stones

The most common symptom of cystinuria is the formation of recurrent kidney stones. These stones can cause severe pain as they pass through the urinary tract. The size and location of the stones determine the intensity of the pain. In some cases, the stones may be small enough to pass without causing significant discomfort, while larger stones may require medical intervention.

Urinary Tract Infections

Cystinuria can increase the risk of urinary tract infections. The presence of kidney stones can create an environment that is conducive to bacterial growth, leading to infections. Symptoms of urinary tract infections may include pain or a burning sensation during urination, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, and an increased urge to urinate.

Blood in Urine

Hematuria, or blood in the urine, is another common symptom of cystinuria. The presence of blood may give the urine a pink, red, or brown color. Hematuria can occur due to the irritation caused by kidney stones or as a result of urinary tract infections.

Frequent Urination

Individuals with cystinuria may experience an increased frequency of urination. This can be attributed to the irritation caused by kidney stones or the presence of urinary tract infections. Frequent urination can disrupt daily activities and affect the quality of life.

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is a common symptom of cystinuria, particularly during episodes of kidney stone passage. The pain may be localized to the lower back or sides and can range from mild to severe. It is important to seek medical attention if the pain becomes unbearable or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.

Treatment and Management

While cystinuria cannot be cured, there are various treatment options available to manage the condition and prevent complications.

Dietary Modifications

One of the key aspects of managing cystinuria is making dietary modifications to reduce the levels of cystine in the urine. This typically involves increasing fluid intake to promote urine dilution and reduce the concentration of cystine. Additionally, limiting the consumption of foods high in cystine, such as red meat and certain dairy products, can help minimize stone formation.


In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help prevent the formation of kidney stones or dissolve existing stones. These medications work by altering the chemical composition of the urine or reducing the concentration of cystine. It is important to follow the prescribed dosage and consult with a healthcare professional for proper management.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases or when other treatment options are ineffective, surgical intervention may be necessary to remove kidney stones or alleviate blockages in the urinary tract. The specific procedure will depend on the size and location of the stones.

Living with Cystinuria

Managing cystinuria requires ongoing monitoring and lifestyle adjustments. Here are some tips to help individuals with cystinuria lead a healthy life:

  • Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of water throughout the day.
  • Follow a balanced diet that is low in cystine-rich foods.
  • Take prescribed medications as directed by a healthcare professional.
  • Regularly monitor urine pH levels and cystine concentration.
  • Seek medical attention promptly if symptoms worsen or new symptoms arise.

It is important for individuals with cystinuria to work closely with their healthcare team to develop a personalized treatment plan and receive regular follow-up care. With proper management, it is possible to minimize the impact of cystinuria and reduce the frequency of kidney stone episodes.

In conclusion, cystinuria is a genetic disorder that can cause recurrent kidney stones, urinary tract infections, blood in the urine, frequent urination, and abdominal pain. While there is no cure for cystinuria, it can be managed through dietary modifications, medications, and, in some cases, surgical intervention. By following a comprehensive treatment plan and making necessary lifestyle adjustments, individuals with cystinuria can lead fulfilling lives and reduce the impact of this condition on their overall well-being.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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