Does drinking a lot of water help a stone pass faster?

If you’re in the unfortunate position of trying to pass a kidney stone, you’d probably want to speed up the process along as much as possible. One common strategy used by patients and occasionally suggested by physicians is to drink tons of water in order to try to “flush” out the stone rapidly.

Well, does this actually work? A recent review by the Cochrane Collaboration, a group that publishes information on the effectiveness of healthcare treatments, looked at whether aggressively increasing your fluid intake during a stone episode is effective.  You can read their review here: “Fluids and diuretics for acute ureteric colic

For those of you who just want the short answer: Their review found that aggressive fluid hydration during a kidney stone episode did not help reduce pain or improve the chances of successful stone passage.

For those who want a little more detail, we’ve summarized the two articles used in their review below:

Edna and coworkers published a study on this topic back in 1983. In their study, 60 patients presenting to a hospital in Norway with a kidney stone attack were either given no fluid for 6 hours or 3 liters of intravenous fluid over 6 hours (a liter is about 34 oz). The amount of pain experienced and average duration of pain experienced was compared between the two groups and no differences were seen. The two groups also did not differ in how often surgery was required (11 times in the fluid group and 10 times in the no fluid group).

In a study by Springhart and colleagues published in 2006, forty-three patients presenting to an emergency room in the United States with a kidney stone were either given vigorous hydration or minimal hydration to see if those given the vigorous hydration would do better. Those given “vigorous” hydration received 2000 ml of intravenous fluid over 2 hours while those given minimal hydration received only 20 ml of intravenous fluid an hour. Patients were then observed for four hours in the hospital.  Pain scores, amount of pain medications used, and chances of subsequent successful stone passage were compared. At the end of the study there were no significant differences between the two groups for any measure: pain scores, amount of pain medication, or success at stone passage.

Together, these results suggested that aggressively increasing your hydration during an acute stone episode is unfortunately not likely to help you pass your stone or reduce the pain you experience. However, drinking more fluids routinely as a kidneystoner is an important and effective strategy for stone prevention.

In contrast to these ineffective results involving fluid hydration during a stone episode, there is growing evidence that medications, on the other hand, can help during an acute stone episode. The most commonly used class of medications, known as alpha blockers, have been shown to reduce the pain experience during a stone episode, shorten the time to stone passage, and increase the chance of stone passage.

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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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8 Responses to Does drinking a lot of water help a stone pass faster?

  1. Tom says:

    The last time I went to the ER with kidney stones they gave me Hydro Codone to take 1 a day. Every other time I’ve been (usually have a stone every 2-4 years) I was given a prescription of the same meds to take 1 every 4 hrs. and enough to last a few weeks. So when I was only given enough to last a week at 1 a day, that was ridiculous. Luckily I had some left over from other times I had kidney stone else I would have been in bad shape having to deal with the full level of pain for the week it took to pass the three stones.

  2. Kirsten says:

    I was told yesterday at the ER that I had a small kidney stone that had traveled down and was almost to the bladder. I was given hydro codone with acetaminophen. I am supposed to take it every 8 hours based on pain and drink lots of water. I take the mess but still experience pain, is there anything else I can take and how long should it take to pass the kidney stone at this point?

    It’s my first one, hopefully last.


  3. Jean says:

    I have kidney stone 3cm was sent home on narcotic pain meds, anti nausea meds and flomax. This was on a Wednesday. Thursday and Friday I felt okay and was able to eat little solid food. Since Friday night I am constantly nauseated and have to struggle to keep down fluids. Nausea pills seem to be doing nothing. I can tolerate a little applesauce. I have a bout of loose stools every morning. Saturday was horrible, pain, vomiting all day into evening. I feel so weak and know I’m getting dehydrated. Is this the normal routine while waiting to pass a stone. I feel awful. Thanks

    • Jean says:

      What happens if you cannot keep a lot of fluids down because of constant nausea? No one seems to address the nausea just the pain.

    • Glenn says:

      I’m guessing you mean 3mm.

      I’m taking Tamsulosin (flomax), percocet (narcotic pain med), and Ondansetron (anti-nausea) all prescribed by the ER. Saw my PCP the next day and he also prescribed Ketorolac (NSAID pain med) indicating it may help more than the percocet. Hard for me to tell. So far the biggest pain relief has been jumping into a hot bath. Seems to pull the pain and nausea down for me or could be coincidence. I had tried a heating pad, but it didn’t help nearly as much.

      I’ve been drinking tons of water and it doesn’t seem to have an effect.

  4. Pedro says:

    Hi. I currently have one stone (7mm by 4mm) stuck in the abdominal-pelvic transtition, right near the iliac blood vessels. I experienced very light pain one week ago in the lowe abdomen but it has since disappeared. My physician says I should not drink many liquids because he says it won’t help. But my question is, does drinking many liquids cause any possible injury to the kidney? I still urinate easily, have no fever and no blood in the urine (this is my 4th experience, the least painful of all, but with the largest stone so far). I really want to know whether I can take a chance on the flooding of the system or not. Will it cause a colic? But won’t the colic make the stone move forward? Thank you

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