Treatment for Kidney Stones

How do health care professionals treat kidney stones?

Health care professionals usually treat kidney stones based on their size, location, and what type they are.

Small kidney stones may pass through your urinary tract without treatment. If you’re able to pass a kidney stone, a health care professional may ask you to catch the kidney stone in a special container. A health care professional will send the kidney stone to a lab to find out what type it is. A health care professional may advise you to drink plenty of liquids if you are able to help move a kidney stone along. The health care professional also may prescribe pain medicine.

Larger kidney stones or kidney stones that block your urinary tract or cause great pain may need urgent treatment. If you are vomiting and dehydrated, you may need to go to the hospital and get fluids through an IV.

Kidney stone removal

A urologist can remove the kidney stone or break it into small pieces with the following treatments:

Shock wave lithotripsy. The doctor can use shock wave lithotripsy to blast the kidney stone into small pieces. The smaller pieces of the kidney stone then pass through your urinary tract. A doctor can give you anesthesia during this outpatient procedure.

Cystoscopy and ureteroscopy. During cystoscopy, the doctor uses a cystoscope to look inside the urethra and bladder to find a stone in your urethra or bladder. During ureteroscopy, the doctor uses a ureteroscope, which is longer and thinner than a cystoscope, to see detailed images of the lining of the ureters and kidneys. The doctor inserts the cystoscope or ureteroscope through the urethra to see the rest of the urinary tract. Once the stone is found, the doctor can remove it or break it into smaller pieces. The doctor performs these procedures in the hospital with anesthesia. You can typically go home the same day.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy. The doctor uses a thin viewing tool, called a nephroscope, to locate and remove the kidney stone. The doctor inserts the tool directly into your kidney through a small cut made in your back. For larger kidney stones, the doctor also may use a laser to break the kidney stones into smaller pieces. The doctor performs percutaneous nephrolithotomy in a hospital with anesthesia. You may have to stay in the hospital for several days after the procedure.

After these procedures, sometimes the urologist may leave a thin flexible tube, called a ureteral stent, in your urinary tract to help urine flow or a stone to pass. Once the kidney stone is removed, your doctor sends the kidney stone or its pieces to a lab to find out what type it is.

The health care professional also may ask you to collect your urine for 24 hours after the kidney stone has passed or been removed. The health care professional can then measure how much urine you produce in a day, along with mineral levels in your urine. You are more likely to form stones if you don’t make enough urine each day or have a problem with high mineral levels.

Kidney stones of varying sizes and shapes.
Health care professionals usually treat kidney stones based on their size and what they are made of.

How can I prevent kidney stones?

To help prevent future kidney stones, you also need to know what caused your previous kidney stones. Once you know what type of kidney stone you had, a health care professional can help you make changes to your eating, diet, and nutrition to prevent future kidney stones.

Drinking liquids

In most cases, drinking enough liquids each day is the best way to help prevent most types of kidney stones. Drinking enough liquids keeps your urine diluted and helps flush away minerals that might form stones.

Though water is best, other liquids such as citrus drinks may also help prevent kidney stones. Some studies show that citrus drinks, such as lemonade and orange juice, protect against kidney stones because they contain citrate, which stops crystals from turning into stones.

Unless you have kidney failure, you should drink six to eight, 8-ounce glasses a day. If you previously had cystine stones, you may need to drink even more. Talk with a health care professional if you can’t drink the recommended amount due to other health problems, such as urinary incontinence, urinary frequency, or kidney failure.

The amount of liquid you need to drink depends on the weather and your activity level. If you live, work, or exercise in hot weather, you may need more liquid to replace the fluid you lose through sweat. A health care professional may ask you to collect your urine for 24 hours to determine the amount of urine you produce a day. If the amount of urine is too low, the health care professional may advise you to increase your liquid intake.

Medicines

If you have had a kidney stone, a health care professional also may prescribe medicines to prevent future kidney stones. Depending on the type of kidney stone you had and what type of medicine the health care professional prescribes, you may have to take the medicine for a few weeks, several months, or longer.

For example, if you had struvite stones, you may have to take an oral antibiotic for 1 to 6 weeks, or possibly longer.

If you had another type of stone, you may have to take a potassium citrate tablet 1 to 3 times daily. You may have to take potassium citrate for months or even longer until a health care professional says you are no longer at risk for kidney stones.

Type of kidney stone Possible medicines prescribed by your doctor
Calcium Stones
  • potassium citrate, which is used to raise the citrate and pH levels in urine
  • diuretics, often called water pills, help rid your body of water
Uric Acid Stones
  • allopurinol, which is used to treat high levels of uric acid in the body
  • potassium citrate
Struvite Stones
  • antibiotics, which are bacteria-fighting medications
  • acetohydroxamic acid, a strong antibiotic, used with another long-term antibiotic medication to prevent infection
Cystine Stones
  • mercaptopropionyl glycine, an antioxidant used for heart problems
  • potassium citrate

Talk with a health care professional about your health history prior to taking kidney stone medicines. Some kidney stone medicines have minor to serious side effects. Side effects are more likely to occur the longer you take the medicine and the higher the dose. Tell the health care professional about any side effects that occur when you take kidney stone medicine.

Hyperparathyroidism surgery

People with hyperparathyroidism, a condition that results in too much calcium in the blood, sometimes develop calcium stones. Treatment for hyperparathyroidism may include surgery to remove the abnormal parathyroid gland. Removing the parathyroid gland cures hyperparathyroidism and can prevent kidney stones. Surgery sometimes causes complications, including infection.

September 2016
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This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings through its clearinghouses and education programs to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.