Key Points about Kidney Stones

  • Kidney stones are small, pebble-like deposits that form when salts and minerals crystallize in the kidneys.
  • They can cause severe pain as they move from the kidney through the urinary tract.
  • Kidney stones can develop from a variety of factors, from chronic medical conditions to diets high in certain acids and minerals.
  • Small kidney stones can often be treated by drinking lots of water, taking over-the-counter pain medicines, and taking prescription medications that facilitate the passage of kidney stones out of the body.
  • Larger stones may require surgical removal or sound wave therapy to break them apart.

Overview

Kidney stones are small, pebble-like deposits that form when salts and minerals crystallize in the kidneys. These stones can be microscopic or can develop into a golf ball-sized lump, and can cause pain as they travel throughout the urinary tract, ultimately exiting the body through the urethra.

A variety of medical and lifestyle factors can contribute to the formation of kidney stones. Diets high in animal protein, sugar and salt, and low in water and fluids, for example, can lead to kidney stones. Certain infections and chronic illnesses can also cause kidney stones. 

Small kidney stones can often be prompted to pass by drinking lots of water, taking over-the-counter pain medicines, and taking prescription medications that facilitate the passage of kidney stones out of the body. Larger stones may require surgical removal or sound wave therapy to break them apart.

Call your doctor if you are experiencing irritating urinary symptoms. 

Kidney stone causes 

Kidney stones form when salts and certain minerals crystallize in the kidneys. There are several types of kidney stones, each of which develops from a different combination of conditions within the kidneys. Urine that contains high levels of calcium or oxalate, for example, can cause calcium stones to develop.

There are many different factors that can create the conditions for kidney stones to form. Common contributors to kidney stones include:

  • Not drinking enough water or fluids
  • Eating a diet high in salt or animal protein
  • High concentrations of calcium or oxalate in the urine, which can result from various dietary factors
  • Infections, including urinary tract infections
  • Certain illnesses and genetic disorders

Kidney stone risk factors

You may be more likely to develop kidney stones if you:

  • Have immediate family members who have had kidney stones
  • Are often dehydrated
  • Are overweight
  • Eat foods with high amounts of sugar, salt or animal protein
  • Have certain chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease

Kidney stone symptoms

The primary symptom of kidney stones is pain, which you may feel:

  • In the abdomen, side of your body, or lower back
  • In the groin
  • While urinating
  • Moving throughout your body

You may also experience:

  • Nausea
  • More frequent urination
  • Passing only a small amount of liquid when you urinate
  • Urine that is cloudy or smelly
  • Urine that is red, brown, or pink
  • A burning sensation while urinating

Kidney stone prevention

Some kidney stones can be prevented by drinking lots of water, and incorporating citrus juices such as orange juice into your diet.

If you have experienced multiple instances of kidney stones, your doctor may prescribe medication or recommend certain diet modifications to prevent their recurrence.

Kidney stone diagnosis

When diagnosing kidney stones, your doctor may perform the following:

  • Blood test
  • Urine test
  • Lab analysis of the contents of your kidney stones
  • Imaging procedures, such as CT scans or X-rays
  • Ultrasound

Kidney stones treatment

Treatment for kidney stones depends upon the severity of pain and the size of the stones. Kidney stones that are small or not severely painful can be prompted to leave the urinary tract by:

  • Drinking lots of water—enough to make your urine as light-colored as possible
  • Taking an alpha blocker as prescribed by your doctor, which can relax the ureter muscles to ease a stone’s passage out of the body and reduce pain

Larger stones may require more involved medical treatment, such as:

  • Sound wave therapy to break apart stones
  • Surgical removal of the stones
  • Removal of the stones through a small tube passed through the urethra and bladder

If your kidney stones are being caused by an underlying medical condition, your doctor will recommend and provide treatment for that condition accordingly.

When to seek care

Call your doctor if your pain is severe, if you have a fever or nausea, or if you have bloody urine.

Next Steps

Your doctor can help customize a plan to prevent your kidney stones from returning.