Kidney stones usually pass on their own without causing any long-term problems. If they don't pass or you're in a lot of pain, your doctor has treatments to break up or remove the stones and ease your symptoms.
Which treatment you get depends on the size of your stone, where it is, and what symptoms it's causing.
Wait for the Stone to Pass
If your symptoms don't bother you, your doctor might suggest that you wait 2 to 4 weeks for the stone to pass on its own. She may tell you to drink extra water to help flush it out of your urinary tract.
Your doctor might ask you to catch the stone in a strainer when you pee. The stone will go to a lab to see what minerals are in it. Then you may be able to take medicine to stop more stones from forming.
While you wait for the stone to pass, medicine can help manage your symptoms.
Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help the stone pass faster. Here are some that might help:
- Calcium channel blockers and alpha-blockers: These relax your ureter, the tube through which urine passes from your kidney to your bladder. A wider ureter will help the stone move more quickly.
- Potassium citrate or sodium citrate: If your stone is made from uric acid, the doctor might give you one of these solutions to dissolve it.
Sometimes, a stone is too big to pass on its own. Your doctor will have to break it up or remove it. Other reasons to have a stone removed are:
- You're in a lot of pain.
- The stone blocks the flow of your urine.
- You have an infection.
Your doctor can break up or remove stones with a few different procedures.
Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL): This works best for small or medium stones. Your doctor uses high-energy sound waves aimed from the outside of your body to break up the kidney stone into little pieces. These pieces will pass in your urine.
You will get medicine before SWL so you don't feel any pain. Typically, you'll go home on the same day as your procedure.
Ureteroscopy: In this technique, your doctor inserts a thin, flexible scope through your ureter and bladder to reach the stone. If the stone is small, she can use a basket to remove it. If the stone is larger, a laser passed through the scope can break it up.
Percutaneous nephrolithotomy or percutaneous nephrolithotripsy: These similar procedures are an option if your stone is large or lithotripsy doesn't break it down enough. Your doctor uses a thin tube to reach the stone, which may be removed (nephrolithotomy) or broken up (nephrolithotripsy).
You will be given something so that you won’t be awake or feel pain. You'll likely have to stay in the hospital for 1 or 2 days afterward.
Open surgery: This might be an option if your stone is very large or your doctor can't remove it with other treatments. While you are unconscious, your surgeon makes a cut in your side and kidney, then removes the stone through the opening.
You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to fully heal from open surgery.
After your operation, the surgeon typically will send the stone to a lab to see what it's made of. Then you might be able to take medicine to prevent more of them.
Talk to Your Doctor
Because there are so many kidney stone treatment options, make sure you understand the benefits and risks of each one before you make a decision.
Ask your doctor these questions:
- How long should I wait for my stone to pass on its own?
- How much water should I drink?
- What foods should I eat?
- For which symptoms should I call you?
- What can I do to prevent another stone from forming after treatment?