Kidney stones: Causes, symptoms, and treatment (2023)

Kidney stones develop when dissolved minerals build up inside the kidneys. A low fluid consumption, dietary factors, and a person’s medical history may contribute to their development.

Kidney stones may be small and pass unnoticed through the urinary tract, but some grow to the size of a golf ball. Larger stones can cause severe pain as they leave the body.

Without treatment, kidney stones can lead to urinary problems, infections, and kidney damage.

Kidney stones are a common problem in the United States, and the incidence appears to be growing. Dietary factors and climate change may contribute to this increase, according to one study.

In this article, we look at how to recognize kidney stones and explain what to do if they occur.

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Kidney stones do not always cause symptoms. A person may pass very small stones out of the body in the urine without being aware of them.

When symptoms appear, they commonly include:

  • pain in the groin, the side of the abdomen, or both
  • blood in the urine
  • vomiting and nausea
  • a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • fever and chills, if there is an infection
  • an increased need to urinate

If kidney stones block the passage of urine, a kidney infection may result. The symptoms include:

  • a fever and chills
  • weakness and fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • cloudy, foul-smelling urine

If a person has any of these symptoms, they should seek medical help at once.

Learn more about the early signs and symptoms of kidney stones.

Complications

When kidney stones remain inside the body, complications can develop.

If they block the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder, urine will not be able to pass out of the body. This dysfunction increases the risk of a UTI or kidney infection.

(Video) Kidney Stones: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention | Mass General Brigham

If recurring kidney stones cause blockages in the urinary system, this can increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.

About 50% of people who have had a kidney stone develop another one within 5–7 years.

There are four different types of stone: calcium, uric acid, struvite, and cystine.

Calcium stones form when the kidneys retain the excess calcium that the muscles and bones do not use, rather than flushing it out of the body. The calcium combines with other waste products to form crystals, such as calcium oxalate, which clump together to make a stone.

Uric acid stones result from a lack of water in the body. Urine contains uric acid. When there is not enough water to dilute the uric acid, the urine becomes more acidic.

Struvite stones can form after a UTI. They consist of magnesium and ammonia.

Cystine stones develop when cystine, a substance present in the muscles, builds up in urine. These are rare.

The American Urological Association say that people who are susceptible to kidney stones should consume enough fluid to produce 2.5 liters (l), or about 85 ounces (oz), of urine each day. On average, this means consuming close to 3 l, or about 100 oz, of fluid a day. Not all of this needs to come from water.

Risk factors

Apart from dehydration, factors that increase the risk of kidney stones include:

  • a family or personal history of kidney stones
  • being aged 40 years or older, although they can sometimes affect children
  • sex, as they are more common in males than females
  • a diet that is high in protein and sodium
  • a sedentary lifestyle
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • pregnancy
  • recent surgery on the digestive system
  • health conditions that affect how the body absorbs calcium, such as inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea

Various medications, such as allopurinol (Zyloprim) and topiramate (Topamax), can also increase the risk. People should check with their doctor if they have concerns about any medications they are taking.

Diagnosis

(Video) Kidney Stones: Causes, Diagnosis and Treatment

Various tests can show whether a kidney stone is present.

  • A physical examination may identify the kidneys as the source of pain.
  • Urinalysis can reveal blood in the urine or signs of an infection.
  • Blood tests can help identify complications.
  • Imaging tests, such as a CT scan or ultrasound, will reveal any structural changes.

Imaging tests can help doctors determine:

  • whether a stone is present
  • the size and location of any stones
  • whether there are any blockages
  • the condition of the urinary tract
  • whether complications have affected other organs

During pregnancy, an ultrasound is preferable to a CT scan, as it does not involve radiation.

Here, find out what kidney stones look like.

Treatment will focus on managing symptoms and removing the stone. There are various ways to do this.

Treatment may involve:

  • a high intake of fluids by mouth or intravenously
  • pain relief medication
  • medications to help speed up the passage of stones

How long do kidney stones take to pass?

Large stones

Large stones may need other types of intervention, such as shock wave lithotripsy (SWL), ureteroscopy, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL).

SWL involves the use of ultrasound waves to break the stone into smaller pieces to make it easier to pass.

If a doctor opts to use ureteroscopy, they will pass a long, thin tube through the person’s urethra as far as the ureter, which connects the bladder and the kidney. They will then use laser energy to break up the stone.

PCNL involves passing a long, thin instrument through the back and into the kidney, where it can break up or remove the stone using laser energy. This procedure requires general anesthesia.

There may be a risk of complications, such as an infection, after removing a large kidney stone. A doctor should explain the possible complications beforehand so that if any develop, a person can recognize the signs.

A person can usually treat small kidney stones at home.

A doctor may recommend:

  • drinking plenty of fluid and waiting for the stone to pass
  • using over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain and nausea
  • taking alpha-blockers to help the stone pass more quickly
  • avoiding salt and sodas

They may advise the person to continue to drink plenty of fluid after the stones have gone to prevent new ones from forming.

(Video) Kidney Stones Symptoms and Treatments

Some foods may benefit kidney health and help reduce the risk of kidney stones.

Herbs and spices

Guidelines from the American Family Physician (AFP) note that people have long used herbal remedies for kidney stones. However, there is uncertainty regarding their safety, effectiveness, and possible interactions with other drugs.

The AFP add, though, that:

  • phytonutrients in green tea, berries, and turmeric may help prevent infection
  • parsley may boost urine production
  • Agropyron repens (couch grass) may help flush out the urinary tract

Proponents of natural remedies note that other foods and supplements that may help protect the kidneys include:

  • basil
  • celery
  • apples
  • grapes
  • pomegranates
  • vitamin B6 supplements
  • pyridoxine supplements

Some research suggests that vitamin D deficiency is common among people with kidney stones, but there is not enough evidence to show that vitamin D supplements are safe or effective for preventing stones.

Do kidney beans help?

Some people drink kidney bean broth to help the stones pass.

People can make the broth by boiling the pods inside the beans for about 6 hours and then straining them. Once the liquid has cooled, they can consume some every 2 hours for 1–2 days.

However, it is important to note that there is no scientific evidence to confirm that this is effective.

(Video) Kidney stones — Symptoms, treatment and prevention

Foods to avoid

Limiting foods that contain the following substances may help prevent stones from developing:

  • protein
  • oxalate
  • sodium (salt)
  • sugar, such as high fructose corn syrup
  • vitamin C supplements

Oxalate is present in many common foods, such as:

  • nuts
  • rhubarb
  • beets
  • miso
  • tahini
  • Swiss chard

However, people should not completely avoid foods containing oxalates, calcium, and protein, as they can have other nutritional benefits.

Learn more about the kidney stone diet.

Kidney stones are not always preventable, but experts recommend that people reduce the overall risk by:

  • drinking at least 2 l of water each day
  • following a healthful diet
  • doing regular exercise

For those with a higher risk of developing kidney stones, a doctor may make dietary recommendations or prescribe medication.

Get more tips on preventing kidney stones.

Kidney stones are a common problem. Not drinking enough fluid is a major causative factor, but dietary habits, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle can all contribute.

Anyone who has symptoms of a kidney stone, urine infection, or kidney infection should seek medical advice to prevent complications from developing.

FAQs

What are 3 treatments for kidney stones? ›

Treatment
  • Drinking water. Drinking as much as 2 to 3 quarts (1.8 to 3.6 liters) a day will keep your urine dilute and may prevent stones from forming. ...
  • Pain relievers. Passing a small stone can cause some discomfort. ...
  • Medical therapy. Your doctor may give you a medication to help pass your kidney stone.
3 Jun 2022

What foods cause 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.

How do I stop getting kidney stones? ›

The best way to prevent kidney stones is to make sure you drink plenty of water each day to avoid becoming dehydrated.
  1. drink water, but drinks like tea and coffee also count.
  2. add fresh lemon juice to your water.
  3. avoid fizzy drinks.
  4. do not eat too much salt.

What are the first signs of kidney problems? ›

Symptoms
  • Nausea.
  • Vomiting.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Fatigue and weakness.
  • Sleep problems.
  • Urinating more or less.
  • Decreased mental sharpness.
  • Muscle cramps.
3 Sept 2021

Which medicine is best for kidney stone? ›

Over-the-counter pain medications, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB), acetaminophen (Tylenol), or naproxen (Aleve), can help you endure the discomfort until the stones pass. Your doctor also may prescribe an alpha blocker, which relaxes the muscles in your ureter and helps pass stones quicker and with less pain.

What cures kidney stones fast? ›

What Dissolves Kidney Stones Fast? Apple cider vinegar contains acetic acid which helps dissolve kidney stones. In addition to flushing out the kidneys, apple cider vinegar can also decrease any pain caused by the stones. In addition, water and lemon juice can help flush the stones and prevent future kidney stones.

What medicine can stop kidney stones? ›

Your doctor may prescribe a thiazide diuretic, which can reduce the amount of calcium released into the urine. These include hydrochlorothiazide, chlorthalidone, or indapamide, all of which help to prevent kidney stones from returning, especially in people who have high levels of calcium in the urine.

How can I check kidney stone at home? ›

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have a kidney stone present in your urinary tract:
  1. Severe pain in the back, side, or below the ribs.
  2. Pain that travels to the lower abdomen or groin area.
  3. Pain when urinating.
  4. Pink, red, brown urine coloring.
  5. Cloudy or bad-smelling urine.
  6. Nausea and vomiting.

What are 3 signs of kidney stones? ›

Symptoms of a kidney stone include:
  • Feeling pain in your lower back or side of your body. ...
  • Having nausea and/or vomiting with the pain.
  • Seeing blood in your urine.
  • Feeling pain when urinating.
  • Being unable to urinate.
  • Feeling the need to urinate more often.
  • Fever or chills.
  • Having urine that smells bad or looks cloudy.
3 May 2021

How serious are kidney stones? ›

Kidney stones are usually found in the kidneys or in the ureter, the tube that connects the kidneys to your bladder. They can be extremely painful, and can lead to kidney infections or the kidney not working properly if left untreated.

What drinks to avoid with kidney stones? ›

Tart drinks like lemonade, limeade, and fruit juices are naturally high in citrate that helps keep kidney stones at bay. But hold back on foods and drinks flavored with sugar or, especially, high-fructose corn syrup. They can lead to stones.

Is Egg good for kidney stones? ›

But overeating meat protein can lead to increased uric acid and lower the citrate and pH. Eggs will not bother those things, but that does not mean you can have as many eggs as you want, especially if you do have cholesterol issues.

What drinks cause kidney stones? ›

Dark cola beverages, artificial fruit punch, and sweet tea are the top drinks that contribute to kidney stones. This is because these beverages contain higher amounts of fructose or phosphoric acid, which are ultimately known to contribute to kidney stones.

How long do kidney stones last? ›

A stone can remain in the kidney for years or decades without causing any symptoms or damage to the kidney. Typically, the stone will eventually move through the urinary tract (figure 1) and is passed out of the body in the urine. A stone may cause pain if it becomes stuck and blocks the flow of urine.

Can stress cause kidney stones? ›

Can stress cause kidney stones? Especially when combined with chronic dehydration, stress can trigger the formation of kidney stones. Stress overall can affect your kidneys. Stress can result in high blood pressure and high blood sugar, which can both affect the health of your heart and the kidneys.

What is harmful to kidneys? ›

Diabetes and high blood pressure are the most common risk factors for kidney disease. However, obesity, smoking, genetics, gender, and age can also increase the risk ( 3 ). Uncontrolled blood sugar and high blood pressure cause damage to blood vessels in the kidneys, reducing their ability to function optimally ( 4 ).

How do I check if my kidneys are OK? ›

Blood Tests. Because your kidneys remove waste, toxins, and extra fluid from the blood, a doctor will also use a blood test to check your kidney function. The blood tests will show how well your kidneys are doing their job and how quickly the waste is being removed.

How do I know my kidneys are OK? ›

“That usually involves simple laboratory tests: a urine test to look for kidney damage, and a blood test to measure how well the kidneys are working.” The urine test checks for a protein called albumin, which isn't routinely detected when your kidneys are healthy.

How can I remove kidney stones without surgery? ›

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a technique for treating stones in the kidney and ureter that does not require surgery. Instead, high energy shock waves are passed through the body and used to break stones into pieces as small as grains of sand.

Can kidney stones cure itself? ›

Treatment for kidney stones

Most kidney stones can be treated without surgery. Most stones will pass by themselves within three to six weeks. In this situation, the only treatment required is pain relief. However, pain can be so severe that hospital admission and very strong pain-relieving medication may be needed.

Is kidney stone curable at home? ›

Drinking plenty of fluids is a vital part of passing kidney stones and preventing new stones from forming. Not only does the liquid flush out toxins, but it also helps move stones and grit through your urinary tract. Although water alone may be enough to do the trick, adding certain ingredients might be beneficial.

Can kidney stones self resolve? ›

Kidney stones can be very painful, but they often resolve without medical treatment.

Does lemon juice dissolve kidney stones? ›

Lemon juice is often utilized to pass kidney stones because it contains citric acid, which can break down small kidney stones. Citric acid is one of the most commonly found acids in fruits and vegetables and can break down kidney stones by forming soluble citrate salts.

What are the 4 types of kidney stones? ›

Types of Kidney Stones
  • Calcium Oxalate Stones. The most common type of kidney stone is a calcium oxalate stone. ...
  • Calcium Phosphate Stones. Calcium phosphate kidney stones are caused by abnormalities in the way the urinary system functions. ...
  • Struvite Stones. ...
  • Uric Acid Stones. ...
  • Cystine Stones.

Where does kidney stone pain start? ›

The sharp pain associated with a kidney stone moves as the stone progresses through your urinary tract. The most common places to feel pain are in your: Lower abdomen or groin. Along one side of your body, below your ribs.

How do kidney stones start feeling? ›

Common symptoms of kidney stones include a sharp, cramping pain in the back and side. This feeling often moves to the lower abdomen or groin. The pain often starts suddenly and comes in waves. It can come and go as the body tries to get rid of the stone.

Can kidney stones poison you? ›

A risk with kidney stones is a kidney infection, which can lead to sepsis. Sometimes incorrectly called blood poisoning, sepsis is the body's life-threatening response to infection. Like strokes or heart attacks, sepsis is a medical emergency that requires rapid diagnosis and treatment.

Can kidney stones become cancerous? ›

The result was that yes, kidney stones can in fact increase the risk of certain kidney cancers. Further, the risk is increased depending on when kidney stones first occur. Some of the key takeaways of the study include: Kidney stones increase the risk of papillary renal cell carcinoma significantly.

What can happen if a kidney stone is not removed? ›

In some instances, however, untreated kidney stones can block the ureters, causing a build-up of urine. This can lead to urinary tract infections, kidney damage, and even kidney failure in more serious cases.

Which vegetable is good for kidney stone? ›

Stick to vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, carrots, green beans, tomatoes, kale, cabbage, and lettuce. These vegetables do not contain oxalates and can help you decrease the risk of kidney stones.

What juice is good for kidneys? ›

To get the best health benefits, be sure to choose 100% organic water-based cranberry juice. So how does cranberry juice help? It can prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of your kidneys, which helps prevent an infection from forming in the first place.

Is milk good for kidney stones? ›

In fact, including foods rich in dietary calcium, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, fortified milk alternatives, white beans, tahini, almonds and chia seeds, will actually decrease your risk of developing kidney stones. Dietary calcium binds to oxalate before it gets to the kidneys helping to prevent stones.

Is Apple good for kidney stones? ›

An Apple A Day Keeps Kidney Stones Away: More Fruits And Veggies, Less Salt Prevents Stones From Forming. Summary: Researchers have found another reason to eat well: a healthy diet helps prevent kidney stones.

Which exercise is good for kidney? ›

Choose continuous activity such as walking, swimming, bicycling (indoors or out), skiing, aerobic dancing or any other activities in which you need to move large muscle groups continuously. Low-level strengthening exercises may also be beneficial as part of your program.

What nuts are good for kidneys? ›

Most nuts are high in phosphorus and not recommended for those following a renal diet. However, macadamia nuts are a delicious option for people with kidney problems. They are much lower in phosphorus than popular nuts like peanuts and almonds.

Is coffee good for kidneys? ›

Studies also show that coffee has protective effects on the kidneys, thanks to antioxidants. Drinking coffee is associated with a lower risk of developing chronic kidney disease (CKD).

How are kidney stones treated without surgery? ›

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a technique for treating stones in the kidney and ureter that does not require surgery. Instead, high energy shock waves are passed through the body and used to break stones into pieces as small as grains of sand.

How can you dissolve kidney stones without surgery? ›

Natural Remedies to Pass Kidney Stones
  1. Drink plenty of water. Kidney stones need to be flushed out of the body so be sure to drink lots of water to keep them moving along. ...
  2. Drink a mixture of lemon juice and olive oil. ...
  3. Try raw apple cider vinegar. ...
  4. Eat diuretic foods.
16 Jul 2021

How do hospitals treat kidney stones? ›

Kidney Stone Treatment at Dignity Health

Medications to relax the ureters can also help the stone pass. Your doctor may prescribe pain medication to keep you comfortable. If the stone is stuck, you may need a catheter procedure, shockwave therapy to break up the stone, or surgery to remove it.

Is kidney stone treatable without surgery? ›

Overall kidney stone treatment without surgery and with medications is a feasible way to deal with small stones that are less than a centimeter in size. Apart from medicines another non surgical way to remove kidney stones is via lithotripsy or ESWL.

What happens if I dont remove kidney stones? ›

Complications of kidney stones

A large stone may get stuck in the urinary system. This can block the flow of urine and may cause strong pain. Kidney stones can cause permanent kidney damage. Stones also increase the risk of urinary and kidney infection, which can result in germs spreading into the bloodstream.

How long can a kidney stone stay in your kidney? ›

A stone can remain in the kidney for years or decades without causing any symptoms or damage to the kidney. Typically, the stone will eventually move through the urinary tract (figure 1) and is passed out of the body in the urine. A stone may cause pain if it becomes stuck and blocks the flow of urine.

What will happen if kidney stones are not removed? ›

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.

How can you test for kidney stones at home? ›

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you may have a kidney stone present in your urinary tract:
  1. Severe pain in the back, side, or below the ribs.
  2. Pain that travels to the lower abdomen or groin area.
  3. Pain when urinating.
  4. Pink, red, brown urine coloring.
  5. Cloudy or bad-smelling urine.
  6. Nausea and vomiting.

Does coffee cause kidney stones? ›

Excessive caffeine

Too much caffeine can cause a range of health problems, including kidney stones. Excessive intake of coffee, tea and soda can stress out the kidneys, leading to higher calcium levels in the urine.

How long does kidney stone pain last? ›

The length of time a stone can hang around is the primary reason that a person may feel like kidney stone symptoms come and go. Once you start feeling the pain of a kidney stone, it can take anywhere between one to four weeks for the stone to actually pass. In the meantime, the pain can seem sporadic.

What size kidney stone requires surgery? ›

Surgical treatment is usually recommended for stones 0.5 centimeters in size and larger, as well as for patients who fail conservative management. The procedures used today to remove stones are minimally invasive and highly effective.

How serious is kidney stone surgery? ›

Major complications, such as severe bleeding or injury to the kidney and adjacent structures, are relatively uncommon. The most common problems are pain associated with the small incision site, the need for a stent or tube to temporarily provide drainage of the kidney, and blood in the urine.

Is it OK to leave kidney stones untreated? ›

Kidney stones are usually found in the kidneys or in the ureter, the tube that connects the kidneys to your bladder. They can be extremely painful, and can lead to kidney infections or the kidney not working properly if left untreated.

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