Kidney Stone Treatment
Kidney stones are hard collections of salt and minerals often made up of calcium or uric acid. They form inside the kidney and can travel to other parts of the urinary tract.
Stones vary in size. Some are as small as the period at the end of this sentence — a fraction of an inch. Others can grow to a few inches across. Some kidney stones can become so large they take up the entire kidney.
A kidney stone forms when too much of certain minerals in your body accumulate in your urine. When you aren’t well hydrated, your urine becomes more concentrated with higher levels of certain minerals. When mineral levels are higher, it’s more likely that a kidney stone will form.
Smaller kidney stones that remain in the kidney often don’t cause any symptoms. You might not notice anything is amiss until the stone moves into your ureter — the tube that urine travels through to get from your kidney to your bladder.
Kidney stones are typically very painful. Most stones will pass on their own without treatment. However, you may need a procedure to break up or remove stones that don’t pass.
Kidney stone pain — also known as renal colic — is one of the most severe types of pain imaginable. Some people who’ve experienced kidney stones compare the pain to childbirth or getting stabbed with a knife. The pain is intense enough to account for more than 1 million visits to emergency rooms each year.
Signs & Symptoms
1. Pain in the back, belly, or side
Usually the pain starts when a stone moves into the narrow ureter. This causes a blockage, which makes pressure build up in the kidney.
The pressure activates nerve fibers that transmit pain signals to the brain.
Kidney stone pain often starts suddenly. As the stone moves, the pain changes location and intensity.
Pain often comes and goes in waves, which is made worse by the ureters contracting as they try to push the stone out. Each wave may last for a few minutes, disappear, and then come back again.
You’ll feel the pain along your side and back, below your ribs. It may radiate to your belly and groin area as the stone moves down through your urinary tract.
Large stones can be more painful than small ones, but the severity of pain doesn’t necessarily relate to the size of the stone. Even a little stone can be painful as it moves or causes a blockage.
2. Pain or burning during urination
Once the stone reaches the junction between the ureter and bladder, you’ll start to feel pain when you urinate. Your doctor might call this dysuria.
The pain can feel sharp or burning. If you don’t know you have a kidney stone, you might mistake it for a urinary tract infection. Sometimes you can have an infection along with the stone.
3. Urgent need to go
Needing to go to the bathroom more urgently or frequently than usual is another sign that the stone has moved into the lower part of your urinary tract. You may find yourself running to the bathroom, or needing to go constantly throughout the day and night.
Urinary urgency can also mimic a urinary tract infection symptom.
4. Blood in the urine
Blood in the urine is a common symptom in people with urinary tract stones. This symptom is also called hematuria.
The blood can be red, pink, or brown. Sometimes the blood cells are too small to see without a microscope (called microscopic hematuria), but your doctor can test for this symptom.
5. Cloudy or smelly urine
Healthy urine is clear and doesn’t have a strong odor. Cloudy or foul-smelling urine could be a sign of an infection in your kidneys or another part of your urinary tract.
One study found that about 8 percent of people with acute kidney stones had a urinary tract infection.
Cloudiness is a sign of pus in the urine, or pyuria. The smell can come from the bacteria that cause urinary tract infections. An odor may also come from urine that’s more concentrated than normal.
6. Going a small amount at a time
Large kidney stones sometimes get stuck in a ureter. This blockage can slow or stop the flow of urine.
If you have a blockage, you may only urinate a little bit each time you go. Urine flow that stops entirely is a medical emergency.
7. Nausea and vomiting
It’s common for people with a kidney stone to have nausea and vomiting.
These symptoms happen because of shared nerve connections between the kidneys and GI tract. Stones in the kidneys can trigger nerves in the GI tract, setting off an upset stomach.
The nausea and vomiting can also be your body’s way of responding to intense pain.
8. Fever and chills
Fever and chills are signs that you have an infection in your kidney or another part of your urinary tract. This can be a serious complication to a kidney stone. It can also be a sign of other serious problems besides kidney stones. Any fever with pain requires urgent medical attention.
Fevers that occur with an infection are usually high — 100.4˚F (38˚C) or more. Chills or shivering often occur along with the fever.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are embedded kidney stones treated?
The three main methods of treatment for kidney stone disease:
- Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
- Ureteroscopy (URS)
- Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL).
How long does it take to flush out a kidney stone?
Stones smaller than 4 millimeters (mm) pass on their own 80 percent of the time. They take an average of 31 days to pass. Stones that are 4–6 mm are more likely to require some sort of treatment, but around 60 percent pass naturally. This takes an average of 45 days.
What happens if a kidney stone is left untreated?
Left untreated, kidney stones can block the ureters or make them narrower. This increases the risk of infection, or urine may build up and put added strain on the kidneys. These problems are rare because most kidney stones are treated before they can cause complications.
Does walking help pass kidney stones?
The good news is, cautious exercise can actually be helpful in moving stones along naturally. If you feel up to it, a light jog or other cardio workout could be enough to shorten your kidney stone’s unwelcome stay.
How will I know when a kidney stone has passed?
As stones move into your ureters — the thin tubes that allow urine to pass from your kidneys to your bladder — signs and symptoms can result. Signs and symptoms of kidney stones can include severe pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and blood in your urine.
How do you know if a kidney stone is stuck?
Small stones are usually passed without any symptoms. Medium to large stones eventually begin to move from the kidney to the ureter, where they get stuck. The main symptom is severe pain on either side of the back. This pain results from the body’s attempt to move the stone out of the ureter and into the bladder.
Can a kidney stone form in a month?
Stones can form when urine contains too much of certain substances that form crystals. These crystals can develop into stones over weeks or months. Calcium stones are most common. They are most likely to occur in men between ages 20 to 30.
Can kidney stones dissolve on their own?
Most kidney stones with a diameter of less than 5 millimeters, and about half of all stones between 5 and 10 millimeters, pass out of the body on their own. These smaller kidney stones are often flushed out in the urine after one or two weeks.
What size of kidney stone requires surgery?
Small kidney stones of size 5 mm also do not require surgery for removal, until and unless they come down and get stuck in the tube (Ureter). Larger stones in the ureter causing swelling of the kidney or infection require immediate removal by ureteroscopy and Holmium LASER.
What size of kidney stone is considered large?
Large kidney stones are stones that measure approximately 5 mm or larger. Based on their size, they may have trouble moving through the urinary tract out of the body.
What foods are bad for kidney stones?
Avoid stone-forming foods: Beets, chocolate, spinach, rhubarb, tea, and most nuts are rich in oxalate, which can contribute to kidney stones. If you suffer from stones, your doctor may advise you to avoid these foods or to consume them in smaller amounts.
Can kidney stone pain come and go for weeks?
Kidney stone pain usually comes and goes. But you don’t have to wait for it to pass or wait for other signs to appear to see if you have a stone. Any time you’re experiencing severe pain, you should get help. Because you never know if it will actually pass or how long it will take.