Pain in your back or side, blood in your urine and nausea/vomiting alongside the pain are symptoms of a kidney stone or stones. Most kidney stones are about the size of a chickpea, but they can also be as small as a grain of sand and as large as a golf ball. Small stones can pass through your urinary tract but you might need surgery for the larger ones.
A stone in your kidney is an irregularly-shaped solid mass or crystal that can be as small as a grain of sand up to the size of a golf ball. Depending on the size of your kidney stone (or stones), you may not even realize that you have one. Even small stones can cause extreme pain as they exit your body through your urinary tract. Drinking fluids may help the process, which can take as long as three weeks.
A large kidney stone can get trapped in your ureter (the tube that drains urine from your kidney down to your bladder). When this happens, the stone can cause bleeding and keep urine from leaving your body. You may need surgery for a stone that can’t pass on its own.
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Researchers have concluded that about one in ten people will get a kidney stone during their lifetime. Kidney stones in children are far less common than in adults but they occur for the same reasons. They’re four times more likely to occur in children with asthma than in children who don’t have asthma.
White men in their 30s and 40s are most likely to get kidney stones. However, anyone can develop kidney stones.
There are several risk factors for developing kidney stones. These include:
Certain medical conditions can also increase your risk of developing stones. This is because they may increase or decrease levels of the substances that make up a kidney stone. These conditions can include:
Some medications can increase your risk of developing a stone. These medications include:
Certain foods can also place you at risk of a kidney stone. These foods include:
Yes, kidney stones can run in families.
Your urinary tract is vital to your body because it gets rid of waste and extra fluid. It’s made up of both your kidneys, two ureters, your bladder and your urethra. Each organ has an important job (in the following order):
You can have kidney stones for years without knowing they’re there. As long as these stones stay in place within your kidney, you won’t feel anything. Pain from a kidney stone typically starts when it moves out of your kidney. Sometimes, a stone can form more quickly — within a few months.
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors. They might do a 24-hour urine test to check how quickly you develop stones.
The most common type of kidney stone is a calcium oxalate stone. This type happens when calcium and oxalate combine in your urine. It can happen when you have high quantities of oxalate, low amounts of calcium and aren’t drinking enough fluids.
Stones caused by uric acid are also fairly common. These come from a natural substance called purine, which is a byproduct of animal proteins (meat, chicken and fish).
The materials that make up a kidney stone can be different. You could develop a calcium oxalate stone and one made of uric acid.
You can have a stone in your kidney for years and not know it’s there. But, when it starts to move or becomes very large, you may have symptoms. Symptoms of a kidney stone include:
Smaller kidney stones may not cause pain or other symptoms. These “silent stones” pass out of your body in your urine.
The most common symptoms of kidney stones are blood in the urine or pain. The amount of pain your child experiences and where it hurts depends on where the stone is located and its size. Other symptoms include:
Most pediatric kidney stones remain in the kidney, but up to a third may migrate from the kidney and get stuck in a ureter. Stones that remain in the kidney, although often painless, can be the source of recurrent urinary tract infections. Those that lodge in the ureter can create severe colicky pain.
Kidney stones are formed from substances in your urine. The substances that combine into stones normally pass through your urinary system. When they don’t, it’s because there isn’t enough urine volume, causing the substances to become highly concentrated and to crystalize. This is typically a result of not drinking enough water. The stone-forming substances are:
These and other chemicals are some of the waste products that exit your body.
Your healthcare provider will discuss your medical history and possibly order some tests. These tests include:
Once diagnosed, your healthcare provider will first determine if you even need treatment. Some smaller kidney stones may leave your system when you urinate. This can be very painful. If your provider decides that you do need treatment, your options include medications and surgery.
Medications. Medications may be prescribed to:
You should ask your healthcare provider before you take ibuprofen. This drug can increase the risk of kidney failure if taken while you’re having an acute attack of kidney stones — especially in those who have a history of kidney disease and associated illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
Surgery. There are four types of surgeries used to treat kidney stones. The first three are minimally invasive, meaning that the surgeon enters your body through a natural opening (like your urethra), or makes a small incision.
Most children’s kidney stones can be treated with the shock wave lithotripsy (SWL), a completely non-invasive procedure. Your child is placed under anesthesia and sound waves of specific frequencies are focused on the stones to shatter them into fragments small enough to be easily passed during urination.
The amount of time it can take for you to pass a kidney stone is different from another’s. A stone that’s smaller than 4 mm (millimeters) may pass within one to two weeks. A stone that’s larger than 4 mm could take about two to three weeks to completely pass.
Once the stone reaches the bladder, it typically passes within a few days, but may take longer, especially in an older man with a large prostate. However, pain may subside even if the stone is still in the ureter, so it’s important to follow up with your healthcare provider if you don’t pass the stone within four to six weeks.
There are three liquids rumored to help with kidney stones:
Avoid soda and other drinks with added sugar or fructose corn syrup. They increase your risk.
There are several ways to decrease your risk of kidney stones, including:
If you develop kidney stones composed of calcium, you may be tempted to stop eating foods that include calcium. However, this is the opposite of what you should do. If you have calcium oxalate stones, the most common type, it’s recommended that you have a diet higher in calcium and lower in oxalate.
Foods that are high in calcium include:
Foods that are high in oxalates include (reduce these in your diet):
It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids to dilute the substances in your urine.
The outlook for kidney stones is very positive, although there is a risk of recurrence (the stones coming back). Many kidney stones pass on their own over time without needing treatment. Medications and surgical treatments to remove larger kidney stones are generally very successful and involve little recovery time.
It’s possible to get kidney stones multiple times throughout your life. If you keep developing kidney stones, your healthcare provider may work with you to discover why the stones happen. Once the cause is found, you may be able to make dietary changes to prevent future stones.
Your risk of injury from a kidney stone can go up based on the size and location of the stone. A larger stone could get stuck in a ureter, causing pressure to build up. This can lead to renal failure and, in the worst-case (but rare) scenario, you could lose your kidney. The chance of passing a 1 cm stone is less than 10%, and stones larger than 1 cm typically don’t pass.
Pain from a stone can persist for a few days after completely passing. But, if the pain persists beyond a week, a repeated imaging test (usually an ultrasound) is done to see if any further blockage is present (sometimes due to a remaining stone fragment).
Kidney stones shouldn’t stop you from going about your daily activities, or drastically reduce your quality of life. Thanks to passing them while you urinate, and thanks to treatment options, kidney stones are not permanent.
If you’ve had kidney stones, you’re at a higher risk for more kidney stones and chronic kidney disease.
No. Kidney stones do not cause death.
Don’t hesitate to see your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing symptoms of kidney stones. If you have a kidney stone, you’ll need to know where it’s located and what size it is so that you can get treatment and prevent complications.
Go to the emergency department if the pain is unbearable. You may be prescribed medication for your pain and any nausea/vomiting.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Kidney stones can be frustrating at best and agonizingly painful at the worst. To stop your situation from getting worse, you should be evaluated by a healthcare provider as soon as possible. The pain can get severe, and surgery might be necessary. Remember: don’t skip your prescriptions, drink lots of water and follow any dietary guidelines. Also, remember that kidney stones are a temporary condition. They won’t bother you forever.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/03/2021.
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