By Patricia Duffy

Simone Biles gave the gymternet a major scare last night (Oct. 26) when she shared pictures of herself in the ER, revealing that she was diagnosed with a kidney stone. Here, we breakdown what exactly a kidney stone is, why Biles might be having this issue and if it will impact her gold medal hopes.

Photos by Grace Chiu

Simone Biles gave the gymternet a major scare last night (Oct. 26) when she shared pictures of herself in the ER, revealing that she was diagnosed with a kidney stone.

Biles confirmed in her tweet that she isn’t letting the kidney stone get her down. She will compete in qualifications less than 24 hours after the late-night hospital visit, but what exactly is a kidney stone? How did the queen of gymnastics get one in the days leading up to Worlds? And will it impact her gold medal goals?

While we don’t have specific details on Biles’ case, here’s what we know about kidney stones:

What is a kidney stone?

Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. Since kidneys are used to pass waste as urine, you can probably see why microscopic, rock-like objects taking up shop inside them could be especially troublesome.

While kidney stones form in the kidneys, the painful part comes as it tries to exit the body. Stones have to move through the ureters–the thin tubes that pass urine to the bladder.

Symptoms usually start showing when the stones enter the ureter, so Biles has likely had this for a bit and just didn’t know it until recently, when she started having abdominal pain.

How did this happen?

While there’s no for sure answer to this question, the biggest risk factor and most common reason is not drinking enough water. This isn’t to say Biles hasn’t been taking care of herself, but consider this:

  1. It’s a 14+ hour flight to Doha. Most everyone gets badly dehydrated on planes, and it’s public knowledge that the U.S. women took a red-eye to Doha, meaning they were on an overnight flight where they likely slept rather than drinking gallons of water (and understandably so).
  2. Biles has been training practically nonstop with Team USA since arriving in Doha last week. When you do any form of exercise, you sweat. When you sweat, you’re at a higher risk of dehydration due to lower-than-normal water and salt levels.
  3. Doha is extremely hot year-round. The average high has been in the mid-90s since we arrived last week. Heat = sweat (see no. 2).

To sum it up: Biles likely touched down in Doha dehydrated, her training decreased those water levels even more and the Doha heat just put the metaphorical cherry on top. Queue a prime kidney stone-forming scenario.

That’s not to say Biles didn’t develop the stones since before she left for Doha. But if it’s one small kidney stone, the full journey typically takes between one to two weeks. If the stone makes it to the urinary tract, it will probably pass in two or so days. Team USA has been in Doha for over a week, so it is highly probably she developed it at some point on the trip over or once she got here.

Is she still going to be able to contend for gold medals? More importantly, will she be okay?

First off, she should be fine. The majority of kidney stones pass naturally, but if it’s more severe than that, she’s made it clear she’s going to try her best to postpone any treatment until after Worlds.

The bigger issue is the pain and other symptoms that she could be dealing with, most notably: severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs, and/or abdominal pain (this seems to have been what caused the hospital visit). It’s easy to see how that could impact her ability to perform.

For now, Biles is pushing on no matter what the symptoms. She’s more than likely just drinking a lot of water and taking approved pain medication, and hopefully, she’ll be kidney stone-free by next week.

As far as gold medals go, if Biles feels comfortable and confident enough to push on and compete in qualifications, she’s probably strong enough to still produce incredible gymnastics.

(Source: Mayo Clinic)