Treating & Preventing Kidney Stones
Our urologists at University of Utah Health offer comprehensive diagnosis and treatment for patients with kidney stones. We are here to help you find relief quickly and effectively. We also have a nephrology team that’s dedicated to preventing new stones from forming. No matter what stage you are in, you will have experts providing you with excellent and thorough care.
Kidney Stone Treatment
After we assess your condition, we will recommend treatment options based on your unique situation. This could include self-care at home and seeing your doctor periodically for monitoring. You may also be a candidate for surgery if your kidney stone:
- does not pass on its own.
- causes severe pain.
- affects your kidney function.
- leads to infection.
Passing a Kidney Stone without Surgery
We may suggest at-home treatment for up to six weeks if:
- your stone is small enough to pass,
- your pain is bearable,
- you are able to keep food and fluids down,
- you have no signs of infection,
- your other kidney is functioning normally, and
- your health conditions (like diabetes) are well-controlled, if you have them.
While you wait for a kidney stone to pass, we may recommend that you:
- drink plenty of water.
- take pain medication if you need it.
- take a prescription medication like tamsulosin (Flomax) to relax and open your ureter more.
- strain your urine so that the stone can be saved for testing once it does pass.
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Kidney Stone Surgery
There are many different surgeries to remove kidney stones that cause pain or infection, are unable to pass on their own, or are in the kidney and may cause problems in the future. The kidney stone surgery that we perform depends on the nature and location of your stone, your health, and other factors.
Some of the most common procedures that we perform at U of U Health range from non-invasive to minimally invasive and include:
- Shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL),
- Ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy, or
- Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL).
Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
Shock wave lithotripsy is an outpatient procedure that uses ultrasound energy to break a kidney stone into smaller fragments that can pass through your urine easier. It is the most common type of kidney stone surgery and is highly effective for most stones that are:
- small to medium in size, and
- located in your kidney or high in your ureter (the tube between your kidney and bladder).
Ureteroscopy with Laser Lithotripsy
In this minimally invasive outpatient procedure, we insert a small scope through your urethra (tube that carries urine out of your body from the bladder) and break up your stone using a small laser fiber. Then, we remove the stone fragments. This is one of the most common ways of treating stones that:
- are small to medium in size.
- will not pass through your ureter.
- are too hard to respond to external shock wave lithotripsy.
- cannot be seen on an X-ray.
This is a minimally invasive procedure that we use to remove large stones from the kidney, which do not respond well to other procedures, or a large number of small stones in one kidney. During the procedure, we locate your kidney stone through a small incision in your back and use ultrasonic energy to break the stone up before removing it. We may place a temporary plastic stent or other tube to help your kidney drain and stop any bleeding. You will likely stay in the hospital for one to two days after this surgery.
If these less invasive procedures fail, we may suggest other surgery types to remove stones. However, this is rarely necessary.
How Long Does it Take to Pass a Kidney Stone?
Most small stones will pass through your urine within a few days to a few weeks. It may be okay to wait up to six weeks for the stone to pass under . On the other hand, some stones may be too large to pass and require medical treatment. Therefore, it is best to see your doctor for an evaluation and to make a plan that’s best for you.
Stages of Passing a Kidney Stone
The stone begins to detach from the inside of your kidney, and your kidney tries to remove it. This causes the kidney to spasm and can cause waves of excruciating pain.
After leaving your kidney, the stone travels through a tube called the ureter on the way to your bladder. There are several narrow areas in your ureter where stones can get stuck — the narrowest spot is where your ureter meets your bladder. Pain can come and go while the stone travels down your ureter, especially if it blocks the flow of urine.
Many stones will pass from the ureter into the bladder. However, some remain lodged in the ureter and require medical treatment. While a stone is in your bladder, you will likely experience significant pain relief, pressure, and the urge to urinate frequently.
When the stone leaves your bladder, it enters a tube called your urethra and exits your body through your urine stream. The urethra is very large compared to the ureter, so stones usually pass pretty easily at this point.
How To Prevent Kidney Stones
After you have had a kidney stone, our specialists may evaluate your urine chemistry and screen you for health conditions and other risk factors for future stone formation. If you save any stones you pass, we can also test them to determine the type of stone and likely causes, which will influence prevention.
Depending on your unique situation, we may suggest that you:
- adjust your fluid intake,
- make changes to your diet, and/or
- take preventive medication.
What To Drink For Kidney Stones
Maintaining proper hydration is a very important part of kidney stone prevention. It helps your urine to not become overly concentrated with substances that form stones.
We typically recommend that you drink enough fluids to make at least 2.5 liters of urine each day. This means that you should drink between 2 and 3 liters of fluid per day—plus more when you sweat from exercise or in hot weather.
All fluids count toward your intake. However, it is best to limit sugar-sweetened and alcoholic drinks since they can increase your risk for kidney stones.
Kidney Stones Diet
What you eat can play a role in developing calcium oxalate stones (the most common type) and uric acid stones. If we believe your diet could be increasing your risk for stones, we may recommend that you limit some foods and increase others.
Foods To Avoid With Kidney Stones
- Eat less animal protein. This may mean eating smaller portions or fewer servings throughout the week of beef, fish, seafood, poultry, and pork. The reason is animal protein can raise acid levels in your urine, making it easier for stones to form.
- Reduce your sodium (salt) intake. This may mean not adding salt to foods and limiting high-sodium foods, such as:
- deli meats,
- baked goods,
- pizza, and
- canned soups and vegetables.
The reason is that too much salt can prevent calcium from being reabsorbed into your blood.
- Limit foods that are high in oxalate (a natural substance found in food that can increase your risk for kidney stones if it binds with calcium). This may mean eating less spinach, rhubarb, almonds, strawberries, chocolate, nuts, and some other foods.
What To Eat for Kidney Stones
- Eat enough dietary calcium. Most people will not need to lower the amount of calcium in their diet to prevent kidney stones. However, it is important to have calcium with your meals, and choose sources that are low in salt, such as low-fat milk, yogurt, and calcium-fortified non-dairy milk.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. They contain several nutrients that may help keep stones from forming. Grapes, melons, and bananas are just a few of the fruits and veggies that are low in oxalates, making them good choices. The citrate in fruits like lemons and limes is also helpful.
Kidney Stone Medication
Sometimes, increasing your fluids and changing your diet are not enough to prevent future stones from forming. If this is the case for you, your doctor may recommend medication that can lower the substances in your urine that put you at risk for kidney stones. The kind of medication your doctor prescribes will depend on the type of stone and any urine abnormalities that you have. To learn more about dietary recommendations and medications that may be right for you, please talk with your doctor.
Make an Appointment with Our Urologists
if you would like to schedule an appointment. Wherever you are in your journey—whether you are starting to have symptoms, need a follow-up after seeing another provider, or want to prevent a reoccurrence—we are here to provide the quick care and expertise you need.