How are kidney stones treated?

Your treatment options for a kidney stone can vary on the size of the stone and where it is located in your urinary tract. Treatment options include:

  • No treatment: Small stones may not need treatment if they can pass out of the body on their own or if they are not causing a blockage
  • Medications: To relax the ureter to allow stones to pass.
  • Minimally-invasive procedures: Procedure carried out by entering the body through a small incision in the skin or through the body’s natural openings.

No treatment. Sometimes kidney stones can pass through urine on their own depending on the size and location. Drinking plenty of liquids helps the kidney stones travel through the urinary tract. Passing the stone may take up to three weeks.

Medications. Severe pain, requiring an emergency room visit, can be managed with IV narcotics, IV anti-inflammatory drugs, and IV drugs to manage nausea/vomiting. Stones causing less pain can be managed with an anti-inflammatory drug such as ibuprofen. (Caution: Ask your doctor before taking ibuprofen. This drug can increase the risk of kidney failure if taken while 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.) Other medications may be given to relax the ureter such as tamsulosin (Flomax®) or nifedipine (Adamant®, Procardia®) so that the stones can pass on their own.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy, shockwave lithotripsy and ureteroscopy treatments for kidney stones

Procedures. There are three types of minimally invasive surgery – ureteroscopy, shockwave lithotripsy and percutaneous nephrolithotomy.

  • Ureteroscopy: To perform this procedure, a small instrument, called an ureteroscope, is inserted in the urethra, through the bladder, and into the ureter. This instrument allows stones to be seen and then retrieved in a surgical “basket” or broken apart using a laser. These smaller pieces of kidney stones are then more easily able to exit the body through the urinary tract.
  • Shockwave lithotripsy: In this procedure, the patient is placed on a special type of surgical table or tub. High-energy shock waves are sent through water to the stone(s) location. The shock waves break apart the stones, which are then more easily able exit the body through the urinary tract.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy: When kidney stones can’t be treated by the other procedures – either because there are too many stones, the stones are too large or heavy, or because of their location — percutaneous nephrolithotomy is considered. In this procedure, a tube is inserted directly into the kidney through a small incision made in your back. Stones are then disintegrated by an ultrasound probe and suctioned out so that you do not have to pass any fragments. A urethral stent is placed after the procedure (an internal tube from the kidney to the bladder which is removed one week after surgery in the office). Patients are typically kept overnight for observation and discharged home in the morning.
  • Open stone surgery: Open stone surgery, is rarely performed. It is currently only done in 0.3% to 0.7% of cases.

How long does it take to pass a kidney stone?

The amount of time it can take to pass a kidney stone varies. A stone that’s smaller than 4 mm 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.

Does cranberry juice help with kidney stones?

Though cranberry juice can help prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), it doesn’t help kidney stones.

Does apple cider vinegar help with kidney stones?

Vinegar is acidic and it can sometimes create changes to your urine which helps stones. However, this doesn’t always help. Talk to your healthcare provider about the use of vinegar for kidney stones.

Does lemon juice help with kidney stones?

Lemon juice is rich is citrate, which can help prevent kidney stones from forming. Citrates are found in several citrus fruits, including:

  • Lemons.
  • Limes.
  • Oranges.
  • Melons.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/22/2020.


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