Kidney Stones FAQ

1. What is a kidney stone?

2. Do I have a kidney stone?

3. What are the symptoms of a kidney stone?

4. Do all kidney stones cause pain?

5. What causes a kidney stone?

6. Can I take something to dissolve my kidney stone?

7. How do kidney stones form?

8. Was it something I ate/drank?

9. Can I prevent another kidney stone?

10. What are the treatment options for my kidney stone?

11. What are the signs of a kidney stone emergency?

12. How long does it take to form a kidney stone?

13. What is my risk of forming another kidney stone?

14. Am I going to be able to pass my (insert size here) stone?

15. Which surgery should I choose?

16. What is a ureteral stent?

17. How is a stent placed?

18. How is a stent removed?

19. Why do I have pain after my stent was removed?

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1. What is a kidney stone?

Kidney stones are the formation of crystalline structures in the urinary tract (which includes the kidneys, ureters, and bladder). These stones can cause pain, infection, and kidney damage. Stones can be small, from 1 mm to very large, filling up an entire kidney. For pictures of stones, see our stone gallery.

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2. Do I have a kidney stone?

For patients experiencing their first stone episode, the pain can be so severe and sudden that it stops them in their tracks. Without prior knowledge of what a stone episode feels like, it can be confusing and frightening to go through this amount of discomfort, which is usually described as the worst pain someone has ever experienced. A trip to the emergency room is usually required to make the diagnosis and provide treatment for an active kidney stone. X-rays, usually a CT scan, can be used to confirm that a stone is present.

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3. What are the symptoms of passing a kidney stone?

Stone pain is often described as stabbing and extremely severe. Women commonly say that it is worst than having a child. The pain can start in the upper back (flank) and then migrate to the abdomen and groin. Changing positions does not help relieve the pain. The pain of a kidney stone is primarily due to blockage of the urine drainage coming down the small tube called the “ureter” that connects a kidney to the bladder. See a diagram of the urinary system.

It is thought that the increased pressure stretches the kidney and ureter, causing the pain. This is why stone pain can come and go in waves, as the drainage tube is periodically blocked by the stone trying to make its way out. As the stone moves further down the tube, the pain experienced moves down the body. Other symptoms common during a stone episode include seeing blood in the urine, nausea & vomiting, and feeling the urge to urinate. Once a stone is passed and makes it way out of the ureter tube and into the bladder, most patients describe a sensation of instant relief as the blockage and pressure is relieved. However, stones can take from days to weeks to pass. See a diagram of locations where stones typically get obstructed.

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4. Do all kidney stones cause pain?

Most doctors feel that kidney stones only cause pain if they are blocking the ureter and trying to pass down towards the bladder. Stones that are not obstructing, such as those located in the kidney’s calyxes, are generally thought to be non-painful. This explains why some patients can have extremely large stones filling up their entire kidney with no or minimal pain.

However, it does appear that some non-obstructing stones can cause pain because of either blockage of small tubular structures in the kidney itself (the collecting tubules) or for other unclear reasons. Supporting this view is a recent medical journal article suggesting that the treatment of small non-obstructing “papillary” stones may provide pain relief. (Gdor et al, Multi-institutional assessment of ureteroscopic laser papillotomy for chronic pain associated with papillary calcifications, J Urol 2011) Additionally, testimonials from many kidney stone patients (including a urologist with a personal history of kidney stones) suggest that some  non-obstructing stones can cause pain.

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5. What causes a kidney stone?

Kidney stones affect 1 out of 10 people during their lifetimes. They are more common than most people realize. There are many factors that determines whether someone will develop a stone with some being under a person’s control while others are out of their hands.

Common factors influencing kidney stone development:

  • Gender: Men are two to three times more likely to form stones
  • Race: Caucasians have the highest stone rates as compared to other races
  • Age: Stones occur most commonly between the 20s to 50s
  • Geography: Those living in hot dry environments are at increased risk. Additionally, those living in the Southeastern United States appear to be at particularly increased risk of forming stones.
  • Seasonal climate: Stone development is more common during the summer months due to dehydration from higher summertime temperatures and possibly also from higher concentrations of calcium in urine resulting from increased sun exposure which can lead to higher levels of Vit D production.
  • Occupation: Those working in jobs with exposure to climate and dehydration are more prone to stone development.
  • Body weight: There are higher rates of stones in those with increased weight and body mass index.
  • Genetics and medical conditions: Individuals with a history of some conditions, such as medullary sponge kidney or renal tubular acidosis are prone to forming stones. Those with a personal family history of stones may have two to three times increased risk of forming stones.
  • Infections: Chronic urinary tract infections can lead to the development of infection related stones, known as struvite stones.

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6. Can I take something to dissolve my kidney stone?

Patients often ask whether something can be taken to dissolve their stones. Unfortunately, the most common stone types (calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate, accounting for 80% of all stones) cannot be dissolved with medications.

However, in patients with uric acid stones, which account for 5-7% of stones, medication (potassium citrate) can be successfully given to dissolve the stones, helping them to pass and preventing them from re-developing.

Patients with the less common cystine type stones (1-3% of stone formers) can also benefit from potassium citrate and water intake to help dissolve their stones. Cystine stone formers additionally can be treated with D-penicillamine or α-mercaptopropionylglycine to help bind and dissolve their stones.

Finally, patients with struvite, or “infection”, stones were in the past more commonly treated with hemiacidrin irrigation solution which is dripped directly onto stones through a tube placed directly into the kidney. However, because of potentially serious side effects from this medication and the difficulty in giving it, this type of therapy is now uncommon.

Learn more about different types of stones.

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7. How do kidney stones form?

There are many factors that lead to the development of kidney stones. For details and a visual time-line of the steps in stone formation, see: How do stones form?

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8. Was it something I ate/drank?

In most patients, we find diet is not the main reason that caused a stone to form in the first place. Other important factors also play a role in determining whether someone is “prone” to forming stones. In other words, a non-stone-former can eat the exact same diet as a stone-former and never get stones.

That said, diet can play an important role in the prevention of future stones. The three most important dietary factors for most stone formers to modify in reducing their risk of future stones are to increase total fluid intake, decrease sodium intake, and and decrease protein (meat) intake.

Some commonly held beliefs of  foods that promote stones including cola, tea, coffee, and calcium intake have not been shown to be true. In fact, research suggests that increasing tea, coffee, and calcium intake can actually reduce stone risk, while cola does not appear to have a significant effect (Curhan et al, Am J of Epidemiology, 1996). See more on kidney stones myths.

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9. Can I prevent another kidney stone?

Yes!, there are many effective ways to help prevent another stone. Basic dietary changes can reduce your chances of forming another stone by half while more involved medical treatment can reduce that even further. While these changes may not guarantee that you will not form another stone, they can make it less likely that you will have to experience another painful stone episode. See our stone prevention center to find out more.

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10. What are my treatment options for my kidney stone?

Treatment options for stones include allowing a stone to pass by itself, using medications to help pass a stone, and surgery to treat or remove a stone. Our stone treatment center has more information, including videos and diagrams of stone surgeries to help you better understand your options.

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11. What are the signs of a kidney stone emergency?

If you think you are passing a stone, signs indicating that you should seek immediate medical attention include:

  • Fever above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Other symptoms of a urinary tract infection with a stone, including burning during urination, cloudy urine, or bad smelling urine
  • Persistent nausea and vomiting
  • Intolerable pain
  • Certain medical conditions can make passing a stone potentially more dangerous, including those with only one kidney, those with diabetes, or those with decreased kidney function

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12. How long does it take to form a kidney stone?

It appears that stones can form in as short a period of time as three months. This is based on research of soldiers deploying to Kuwait and Iraq where the mean time to development of a symptomatic stone was 93 days in the hot desert environment. (Evans and Costabile, J Urol, 2005)

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13. What is my risk of forming another kidney stone?

In general, the chances of developing another stone is about 40-50% over five years. In other words, 1 out of 2 new stone formers should expect to develop another stone within the next five years. However, there are many effective ways to reduce the chances of recurrence with simple diet changes. See our prevention center for more details.

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14. Am I going to be able to pass my (insert size here) stone?

Your likelihood of passing a stone will primarily depend on its size, its location, and how long you have been trying to pass a stone. We go over this in our infographic available here: What are my chances of successfully passing passing my stone?

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15. What surgery option should I choose?

There are three common surgeries for stones. These include ureteroscopy, shockwave lithotripsy, and percutaneous nephrolithotripsy. We go over the pros and cons of each here: How do I choose which surgery to have for my kidney stones?

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16. What is a ureteral stent?

A stent is a flexible hollow tube placed inside the ureter. It allows urine to drain around a stone and helps the ureter heal after surgery. It is entirely inside your body and is not visible from the outside. Stents can cause you to feel like you have to urinate often, can cause minor bleeding, and can cause pain. Find out more about stents here: All about ureteral stents.

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17. How is a ureteral stent placed?

Ureteral stents are usually placed in the operating room by your doctor. A flexible wire is slid up the ureter and the stent is slid over the wire. The wire is removed and the stent remains. At each end of the stent are natural “curls” to keep it in place until it is removed or exchanged. See more about stent placement here: How is a ureteral stent placed?

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18. How is a stent removed?

Ureteral stents can be removed in two ways. Most commonly, your doctor will remove the stent by placing a camera into your bladder through your urethra (the tube where urine exits your body). The stent is grasped with an instrument and removed. The second method is used when a string is left attached to the stent. The string, which is visible exiting the urethra, is pulled until the stent comes out. See more about stent removal here: How is a ureteral stent removed?

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19. Why do I have pain after my stent was removed?

Some mild amount of discomfort after stent removal is expected. However, in some patients, severe pain may occur for several hours after stent removal. This is thought to be due to spasms of the ureter or swelling and temporary blockage developing after the stent comes out. Not enough is known about this phenomenon but one recent study suggests it may occur in as many as half of patients. In the study, a single dose of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug given 15 minutes before stent removal was highly effective at preventing the severe pain from developing. You can read more about the study here: Severe pain after stent removal: How often does it occur and can anything prevent it?

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248 Responses to Kidney Stones FAQ

  1. Jyotika says:

    My husband is 29 years. In April enddoctor dignose stones in borh kidney i. e 6 mm in right and 13 mm in left. He did not under went the prescribed medication but was regularly taking gahat ka pani and lenon juice mixed with kaudi. He was fine so he he started eating chicken fish n other things but all of a sudden in mid july he felt pain and it was dignosed that his stones were increased in size from 6 to 9 mm right and 13 to 19.5 mm left. Is this possible that the size changed so frequently. He has started neeri and one more medicine. We dont want to go for a surgery is this possible dhat it can pass
    Please reply on my mail id
    Thanks

  2. Vikas says:

    Hello All, i have been suffering from kidney stones 5th time and believe me its pain is horrible when it starts, symptoms are vomating, loo and in excessive pain noisia..
    Well the easiest quickest no operation cure is lithotripsy (shock wave treatment) it works with the combination of fluroscopy. In india stones up to 10 mm are being burst with this technique (i had 8 mm largest). Fluroscopy uses permissible radiation to see continious lively body inner parts to locate stone and to focus lithotripter. I have seen the best accurate way to capture stone inside body is CT but again it consist permissible radiation. Ultrasound is the other way to figure out syones but sometimes it dosent works in case your stone got stuck in urater pipe (worst case) and you are in bad paint, even sometimes it cant capture stones inside kidney.CT gives chance to find if you have stones in any other parts like kidney etc as well. Any stone up to 5 mm (maximum diameter of urater pipe ) can paas from urater pipe rest cant. So even if you dont have pain and have stone in your kidney, decide by size. My bad life style is the cause of stones, trying to work out.. Its hard to dissolve stones but lemon juice or oral medicine like noculi (pls google composition) can help. I hope this may help someone to avoid operation and save from pain alongwith money saving. Its pain sometimes goes off completely, i would say it would be the sign of incoming hell pain. Also its a indication that calcium is not being absorbed in your body but that dosent mean you should stop calcium, it will more worsen situation, instead do excercise. Another cause of stone is uric acid excess and urine ph level below 6. Calcium test, urine test and thyriod test ( to check uric acid and others) can help to find actual root cause also check if you are taking 3 liters of water daily or not..

  3. william says:

    I went to the emergency room Monday and was diagnosed with a kidney stone now the pain I was having was on my right side but they told me this stone is in my left kidney is it possible that this Stone has been there for a a long period of time or as it recently developed in all Stones pass and by having a stone in one kidney does that put extra strain on my other kidney they also said I have blood in my urine which from what I’ve read indicates the stone is moving please inform me with any additional information and correct me on anything I said

    • Vikas says:

      Ask doctor for ct that will make things clear, mostly pain happens on the side where stone is residing, you will have pain waves and it mostly occurs in night.

  4. Mubaiwa says:

    I am a female 52 years and have a calyceal cyst mass 3.2×2.7 cm. What treatment is besst for me. I do not have any pain.

    • Vikas says:

      Drink 3 liters of water daily it will come out naturally, exercise and take lemon juice or apple cider vineger.

  5. priyam says:

    ihave19mm stone what can i do red urine and pain also tell me

  6. Mrs Nicola Knowles says:

    Just been diagnosed with kidney stones im 47 female.after pretty much pure blood when urinating one morning and all day.no pain nothing other than bad intergestion. never had before.lucky i guess reading other comments.or is the start ?

  7. Virginia says:

    I stared getting nausea and violent episodes of vomiting a full month before I had any blood in my urine or pain. I passed the stone on my own. My question is…can the nausea and vomiting occur that far in advance of any evidence of a stone? Or is my nausea and vomiting likely due to something else?
    Thank you!
    Virginia

  8. Twinkle agarwal says:

    If a kidney stone is above 10 to 12 mm above urinary bladder than how much days it take to come out ?If we have to go out after 4 days then can we leave or jst postpone the trip ?Is it safe to travel or not?

  9. K.satya says:

    I have left renal calculi 17cm since 1year.is this curable with medication or surgical? Pl@ase give advice

  10. Shiva Kumar Kaparaboina says:

    Hi im shiva, i initially suffered with stones in both the kidneys of very small size and I successfully able to clear in 4 successive years. now i started aerobic workouts like jogging,walk,swim and playing football and my coach suggested me to take calcium by SHELLCOL 500mg in order to reduce daily bone pains. How to take ? and it is safe for me in future to consume calcium .help me out

  11. Hi I’m mike I have been diagnosed with kidney stones, but am having other symptoms besides the vomiting and pain can they also cause your stomach to feel in pain ,I have four kids and a single dad and I feel worried, thanks for your help

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