Ask us: Do I need to treat my 3mm stone?

In our “Ask a kidney stone doctor” section, we field questions from stone formers or their family members. Today’s question is about small non-symptomatic kidney stones. See other questions and answers or ask your own question here.


July 22, 2011

Question from Minnesota:

I have a 3mm to 4mm stone in my right kidney, which has been there since 2003.  It originally was very high up in the kidney, but moved to the lower part of the kidney in 2006. I just had another CT done, and it is still in the same place and the same size.  Because the stone is in the lower part of the kidney versus the higher part, is it less likely to pass, because it would have to go up to get into the ureter versus down? Because I’ve had this stone so long with no changes, what are the chances that it will just continue to sit there and never pass?  It has caused me no pain other than occasional blood in my urine. I was told by my doc that I could wait and watch the 3-4mm stone in my right kidney or proceed with ureteroscopy to remove it. It’s been sitting there since 2003 without giving me any discomfort. How painful is having a stent put in to promote healing after the ureteroscopy and is it really necessary?


Many patients are found with small stones and it can be confusing deciding on whether to proceed with treatment or to continue observing the stone(s). Several factors need to be considered to help make a decision:

1)    Size: Stones that are smaller than 5mm are more likely to be able to pass successfully without requiring surgery. When a stone is larger (>6mm) and unlikely to pass successfully, it may make more sense to intervene. In your case, the stone is small and if it were to start moving down the ureter, it would have a good chance of passing spontaneously. However, successful passage does not mean non-painful passage as even small stones can cause significant discomfort when they move down the ureter. Because of this, patients who have already experienced a stone episode in the past are usually more motivated to have an early intervention so that they can avoid another stone passage episode.

2)    Stability: Stones that are growing are more likely to lead to problems while stones that stay the same size are less likely to become symptomatic. As your stone is stable over 8 years, one could argue to continue to watch it.

3)    Location: Stones that are not obstructing, like yours, are generally asymptomatic. Stones that are floating in the renal pelvis or ureter are more likely to cause obstruction and more likely to require intervention. Stone fragments in the lower pole are generally felt to be less likely to pass. However, in addition to whether the stone is in the upper pole, middle-pole, or lower pole of the kidney, researchers have focused on the “calyceal anatomy” which can be though of as the length of the “tunnel” and the angle of the “tunnel” that the stone would have to travel to end up in the center part of the kidney where it could start making its way down the ureter.

4)    Symptoms: Stones that cause symptoms such as pain, recurrent infections, or significant bleeding would be more likely to require intervention than stones that are causing minimal symptoms.

5)    Other things to consider: Certain individuals will be advised to have their stone treated even if it is small and asymptomatic. This includes pilots, who would put themselves and their passengers at risk if they were to experience a stone passage episode while flying, and travelers to remote locations, where modern medical facilities may not be available if they were to suffer a stone attack.

The short answer as to how likely your stone is to remain there without causing problems is 80% over the next 3-10 years. Another way of looking at this is that 20%, or 1 out of 5 patients in your situation will experience a stone passage episode over the next 3-10 years while 4 out of 5 will do fine without experiencing problems. Here’s the long answer: Based on a study of 5,047 adults who underwent CT colonography screening, asymptomatic stones, such as yours, are found in 8% of American adults. In that study, the average stone size was 3mm. Over 10 years, 20.5% of patients with stones, or 1 out of 5, developed a symptomatic “stone episode” requiring intervention. Alternatively, 4 out of 5 patients did fine without experiencing a stone episode. This rate of 20% of small stones requiring treatment when observed is remarkably consistent with multiple other studies where patients with small stones were observed.

Finally, as to your question about ureteral stents, stents are often required after ureteroscopy surgery because of the ureter’s tendency to swell temporarily and become blocked after this type of surgery. This swelling can cause pain similar to a stone episode. We’ve found that this is more likely to occur in patients who have not had prior ureteroscopy surgery. Note though that this is a “surgeon’s preference” as some urologists will be more likely to perform ureteroscopy without leaving a stent. Stent pain can be mild or can be very uncomfortable. While some patients do not even realize a stent is there, most can’t wait to have them removed and some patients will say that the stent was worse than their stone. One way to potentially avoid a stent is to consider shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL) if the stone is easily visible on a plain x-ray.

About Dr. Mike Nguyen

Mike M Nguyen, MD, MPH, is a urologist and an Associate Professor of Clinical Urology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC in Los Angeles, CA. He specializes in the treatment of kidney stones with both surgery and dietary prevention and the in the treatment of kidney and prostate cancer using the latest robotic surgical approaches. He sees patients at clinics located in Los Angeles, Pasadena, and La Canada, CA. He is the founder of the website.
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39 Responses to Ask us: Do I need to treat my 3mm stone?

  1. kathy says:

    I have a 6mm, calcium oxalate stone, lower pole in left kidney reduced down from 7 in left Lower pole…….my surgeon suggested a possible stent??? My Urologist said No.
    It’s less likely for stone to Jump up from Lower pole, so stent would be useless at this asymptomatic time. It may never present problems. A Wait and See approach is best. Leave well enough alone. Especially that a stent can create tears in Ureter, possible infection, and complications. My Nephrologist has me on B Complex, and citrate from Lemons for Lemonade.

  2. Sathish says:

    Hello Doctor,
    I am suffering with terrible back pain, under the ribs pain. So with the Dr. suggestion i gone for diagnosis for CT scan, X-ray, CECT as well but the report says ?small renal calculi is visable in right side kidney and ?fatty soft tissues souranded by liver. But doctor did proceed further due to report given like ????, how can i proceed.So Please assist how to proceed. recently my both the ankles are becom swelling with water.

  3. says:

    My friend right kidney measures10.9 4.5 4.7 cm.Subtlel hypoechogenicity about the right kidney which measure 1.2 1.2 cm in size.The left kidney measures 9.9 4.5 5.3.Remainder of renal parenchyma is homogenouse.No hydronephrosis or abnormal perinephric fluid collection. Bladder is only midly dustended

  4. kannan says:

    I have 13mm calculi at left side upper pole.. …when will it come down.. ..what treatement should i take

  5. Mary says:

    I’m a 54 year old woman who was diagnosed with kidney stones for the first time two
    months ago following a few months of pain in my left side and back. Ultrasound scan showed a 1.1cm stone in interpolar region of left kidney and .36cm stone at the left lower pole. Following lithotripsy, a follow up KUB X-ray showed no stones and I was told I was clear of all stones. As I was still symptomatic I was unhappy with this so I had a CT urogram. This showed the larger stone had reduced to .4 cm, the .36cm stone remains the same, apparently this was not treated with the lithotripsy and a further .2cm and a small cyst was found in my right kidney. I am having daily pain and am on prescription painkillers and anti inflammatory medication to deal with this. My urologist has advised that after reviewing my CT scan at an X-ray conference at my hospital it has been decided to do nothing more but to follow up with another scan in 6 months time. I feel really upset as I feel my pain is not being taken seriously as I’m told that non obstructing stones in the kidney do not usually cause pain. I’m finding this whole process really frustrating. Can anyone advise if they experienced pain with small non obstructing stones in their Kidneys and if they were treated and how. I would appreciate any feedback or advice.

    • K.T. says:


      I feel your pain… I had 2 in my ureter & my kidney with horrible pains & after months of suffering I was seen by a Urologist he too said that the one in my Kidney isns’t painfull & I’m like I’m the one that’s been feeling the pain..

      Anyway my surgery was recent & it was meant to be Urethoscopy versus PCNL they went on the day things didn’t go as plan & they had to put a stent in
      I hated the stent the pain from it was excruciating & constantly felt I wanted to wee which would was afraid to walk or wee… 5 days later went to have the stent out & things went from bad to worse as I clasped a few times fro sever & excruciating pains & was in & out of hospital & eventually they admitted me.

      Whilst in hospital another stone passed from my Kidney into Ureter…. Waiting to have stone in my Kidney removed as when I had the surgery the Dr said it was too large & it was burried in a sack & they I had to take it out through my back… They gave me an appointment for the beginning of December but now that another stone passed whilst I was in hospital & they saw they pains it caused me whilst was coming out from the Kidney they bought the appoint forward, so I’m yet to see what the next surgery is going to be like…

      I pray your’s will be resolved soon don’t give up… Good luck..,

      • Mary says:

        Hi K.T.,
        It’s so fustrating to hear all these stories about people suffering with kidney stone symptoms and not being taken seriously. When I first experienced the pain I didn’t know I had kidney stones, so when they were diagnosed I was so relieved to find the reason for the pain. You would think that the urologists would hear so many stories like this that they would understand by now that patients have no reason to make the symptoms up, they just want to get better. I wish you the best of luck with your treatment

    • Joyce Begnaud says:

      Yes my son is 12 and having the same problem. His urologist will not take him seriously. He says he shouldn’t be in any pain and won’t do anything. We have to keep taking him to the e.r. This happened also with the first urologist. He has a horseshoe shaped kidney and cannot pass easily. Yet they won’t do anything for him. We are at our wits end. So tired of my son having to suffer. They even accused him of making up the pain. Hope you n my son find another urologist who will help.

      • Mary says:

        Thank you for sharing your story. My urologist is now taking me into hospital this week to do a scope and have a good look around my kidneys (his words) and hopefully hook the stones out. He agreed to do this following a call from my GP telling him I was still having pain and could he please do something for me.
        I feel so sorry for your son, I hope someone can do something for him soon. I will post again once I am over the procedure.

  6. Bilawal says:

    Respected Dr:
    i have an 8mm stone is present at lower pole of left kidney.
    please suggest me what i can do.

  7. Lakshmi says:

    please give me some suggestions to treat kidney stones
    while I have stones measuring 3mm in both kidneys. I have no problem while passing urine but some times its paining at right side of abdomin & Back not able sit properly at office at that time i using some Pain killers like Meftal Spas & Ultraset DO I need to do treatment fro this stones or will it pass if I drink lots of water ?

    • raj says:

      u should consult to a doctor , coz dere r two types of stones obstructing and non – obstructing , if u have obstructing stone den go for d treatment and consult to a doc.
      i am having 4 mm stone in lower pole of kidney and it is making infection , my doc. ask to watch it for few more days.
      let c.

  8. majeed says:

    Please provide me the stone information about small calculus of 3mm at the left vesico ureteric junction. And diet for such problem please answer me as soon as possible

  9. karim says:

    the right sided urinary tract is obstructed by a calcul
    in the mid segment of the right ureter measuring 3x6mm
    what must i do?

  10. Mohammad aftab says:

    I have had 3 mm stone in my right side kidney but It not created any problem but last 10 days i feel burning in my urethra before feel of urinate. I have done my antibiotic course but after 5 to 6 days it again created. Please tell me, what should i done for this type of problem.

  11. Pete says:

    I passed a 7 mm a 4 mm a 3 mm and i have one in my lower left kidney causing severe pain. they say it will pass yet.. yet it hasnt moved the pain remains in the same place. they say i have no infections yet they dont do a 24 hr urine collection… i have had the pain for a straight month with blood in my urine. Im hoping they will remove it i cant handle this pain anymore. i been dealing with this since march. at first they said it was my imagination than i passed 3 out of 4 stones. they did a non contrasted scan. now they are reevaluating and doing a contrasted one. i hope they find the problem im trying to force the issue and getting the stone removed the doc said he doesn’t know why im in pain.. i was like serious.. so i hope the contrasted scan shows the cause.

  12. Armando Berdusco says:

    Working out and lots of push up seemed to get my 4 mm stones moving, hope I pass them. I’ve been trying to flush the out 4 days already.

    • Laurie says:

      Pete you are seeing a quack. I have had multiple stones up to 13mm as has my dad and grandmother and have never been treated like you have been. You need to go to another Dr and hospital. Maybe a university hospital. I go to the U of M Michigan. Something is causing your stones and you need to find out what that is. You need to know what kind of stones you have and if you take motrin of any kind, stop. Good luck

  13. varsha says:

    i have 3mm stone in right kidney and granular atone in left kisney.can it pass only drink a lots of water.

  14. Lawrence Schaefer says:

    I had an asymptomatic, non-obstructive 1.6cm CaOxylate stone in lower pelvis of the right kidney. Had SWL 2 weeks ago with a stent. Stent comes out in 3 days. The stent has been a little uncomfortable – I certainly wouldn’t say it caused me pain. I have been diligently collecting all fragments by straining. To my best estimate I probably have passed 30% of the total stone volume, with fragments up to 2x3mm (I am a trained microscopist). I understand larger fragments will pass after stent removal. Surgeon told me the ureter remains dilated for about a month following stent removal so larger fragment passage is aided. Let’s hope he is right. I will need to see if no further SWL is required once the doc sees me next week.

  15. Md. Hasan says:

    IT has been seen 4mm stone like echogenic foci in right kidney. It gives me severe pain.
    Dr. prescribe me Rowatinex but my pain remain still same after taking 4 month of medicine. What can i do now ?

    • josephKing says:

      I take a herb extract “Stone Breaker”, system restore, for urinary problems.
      You can get it at your local health food store. They carry a full section of Herb Extracts. Follow suggested directions for 2 weeks. Maintaince at least once a month or if stones return. I have been using Stone breaker for years, when ever I get a kidney pain, that will always occur when any size stone develops.
      Good luck, jlk

  16. rongul pitroda says:

    sir i have 6mm long stone in my right kidney at right VJU and dense is 735 HU,pls give me suggestion about treatment

  17. Hi’ I have 3to 4 mm stone in upper & middle pole of my right kidney & not passing my urinare which is causing me pain often so what should I do. Do I have to go for a surgery r shock wave treatment

  18. mayur kamble says:

    i have 3..4mm stone in right kidney what shoul i do plzz reply me…

  19. B.K.Joseph says:

    I have 4.1mm calculi at upper pole of my Rt. kidney and often crating trouble by severe pain and does not pass through the urine. Please advise ???

  20. prince says:

    i have two 3mm stone in right kidney and one 3mm stone in left kidney what should i do plzz rply me

  21. prince says:

    i have 2 ..3mm stone in right kidney and 1 ..3mm stone in left kidney what should i do plzz rply me..

  22. ajaz says:

    I have 6-7mm stone in lower pole of the left kidney for the last one year, is there any chance that it will pass by itself using lot of fluids.

  23. Pradeep says:

    I have stone measuring 6mm in ureter. It is at the same position for past 1 month. I have no problem while passing urine. DO I need to do treatment fro this stone or will it pass if I drink lots of water ?

  24. Barbara says:

    This is the test result from a CT scan. I am having lot of pain and there is always blood in my urine when I go to the doctor not that I can see it with my naked eye. Should I see a urogolist and have this removed.

    Abdomen:There is a 7 x 8 mm calculus in the midpole of the right kidney,previously measuring 6 x 5 mm. No left renal calculus isidentified. No hydronephrosis or hydroureter. Stable calcifiedphleboliths in the bilateral pelvis. No distal ureteral calculusis identified. No new perinephric fat stranding.

  25. Marie Pavese,M.D. says:

    I enjoyed reading your article on asymptomatic kidney stones.
    If you had a patient with an asymptomatic 9mm calculus in the right lower pole unchanged much significantly in size and postition since 2004 would you continue to observe, do nothing ? There was intially lithotripsy done for a 1.2 cm stone in this location in 12/9/03 and a second 12/27/03 with shrinkage of this stone down to 7.4mm by 2/5/05. The patient who is a physician, began HCTZ for the etiology of stone formation of secondary hyperparathyroidism to reduce stone formation progression by reaborbing calcium from the urine, and urocit K 10 meq and drinking lemonade. Serial KUB’s over time showed growth to 8mm in 2007 and 9mm in 2008 but same position then. It remains asymptomatic . Would you continue to observe? Would you keep doing KUB’s and exposing pt to radiation and if so how frequently or just do a radiological test if and when any symptoms resume?

    In as much as the removal of the stone in 2004 from lithotripsy only resulted in a 4.6mm reduction in size after two back to back lithotripsies , and the stone now has grown 1.6 mm in 7 yrs on meds, would you say that this is insignifant changes to worry about?

    • says:

      It really is up to the patient regarding whether to treat this stone. At 9mm, it is unlikely to pass on its own and may continue to increase in size over time. The advantage of treating the stone earlier is that shockwave lithotripsy or ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy are more likely to be successful when stones are smaller. Between the two, ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy will have a higher chance of completely eradicating the stone but causes more discomfort than shockwave lithotripsy. Alternatively, the advantage of waiting is that the stone is currently asymptomatic and can be tracked using annual low radiation KUBs which are relatively low risk. Observing until symptoms occur or the stone gets larger is also a reasonable option.

      • Marie Pavese,M.D. says:

        the literature says that the lower pole kidney stones have less of a chance of passing due to this anatomical location. the question is what to do with lower pole asymptomatic poles since they are less likely to pass even with procedures.Of course the 9mm lower pole ones won’t pass spontaneously but maybe neither the 3-4 mm lower pole ones either simply due to the lower pole location.
        WHAT is reasonable and customary to do for lower pole stones especially those that remain always and for years ,asymptomatic??

      • Marie Pavese,M.D. says:

        when you say observing if pain or if the stone gets larger, if the stone always in the same lower kidney pole and remains asymptomatic, non-obstructing, no changes in signs,no decrease in renal function or anything else, goes from 7.4 to 9mm in 7 yrs and then increases a mm or so, and still without pain or any other symptoms in 10 yrs, then how oftern should you decrease the frequency of testing and films?

        • says:

          That’s up to the patient and treating physician. A typical followup schedule would be a single abdominal (KUB) film and followup visit once a year. A single KUB film delivers a relatively low amount of radiation. If a stone remains stable and asymptomatic, some patients may decide on less frequent imaging – once every two years or whatever they and their physician are comfortable with.

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