Kidney Stone Disease

What are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard masses that develop when substances in the urine such as salt crystals and minerals build up and stick together. They can be found in the kidney as well as in the urinary tract.

Most stones are small enough that they can move from the kidney through the ureters and into the bladder, where they'll eventually pass from the body with urination. Sometimes, however, stones grow too large to pass, and they can become lodged in the ureter, which can stop urines natural flow, causing pain. Passing these stones through the ureter can also cause significant pain.  These types of stones may need to be treated.

Symptoms can range from dull, aching pain to severe, sharp pain in the side, sometimes accompanied by nausea and/or vomiting, and blood in the urine.

There are four basic types of kidney stones and each is due to different factors. The most common types of stones are composed of calcium oxalate or calcium phosphate. The most common cause of these types of stones is dehydration or people with sensitivities to nutritional variations in their diet, i.e. not getting enough calcium or eating foods high in oxalates. Stones can also be caused by an infection in the urinary tract. These are called struvite stones. Even less common is a uric acid stone.

This site is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Only your physician can diagnose and appropriately treat your symptoms.

References:  National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:  Kidney Stones in Adults jul04; webMD: Kidney Stones: Treatment Overview jul04; American Urological Association: Medical Management of Stone Disease jul 04; Surgical Management of Stones jul04; Management of Ureteral Stones jul04


Frequently Asked Questions

What causes kidney stones?

Doctors do not always know what causes a stone to form. It seems that some people are just susceptible to having stones—and those who are might increase their risk by eating certain foods, or by not drinking enough water.

A person with a family history of kidney stones may be more likely to develop stones. Urinary tract infections, kidney disorders such as cystic kidney diseases, and metabolic disorders such as hyperparathyroidism are also linked to stone formation.

Certain intestinal disorders can increase the risk, as can taking certain medications, like protease inhibitors. Even taking diuretics or calcium-based antacids can increase the risk of forming stones.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:
Kidney Stones in Adults jul04

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

Sometimes, urinary stones cause no symptoms at all. But often, urinary stones can cause pain—possibly severe— as well as blood in the urine, nausea or vomiting, the need to urinate more often, or burning during urination. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor for evaluation. And if fever and chills accompany any of these symptoms, contact a doctor immediately, as you may have an infection.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:
Kidney Stones in Adults jul04

How are kidney stones or ureteral stones diagnosed?

Occasionally, "silent" stones—those that do not cause symptoms—are found on x-rays taken during a general health exam.

More often, symptoms of urinary stones will cause your doctor to scan your urinary system using a special x-ray test called an IVP (intravenous pyelogram) or a CAT scan. Blood and urine tests help detect any bleeding as well as any abnormal substances that might promote stone formation. The results of all these tests help determine the proper treatment.

Urology Care Foundation:
Kidney and Ureteral Stones

Do kidney stones need to be treated?

The good news is that treatments for urinary stones are highly successful. The type of treatment your doctor will recommend depends on the size and number of stones you have as well as the location of the stones. In most cases, 80% of the stones are small enough to pass on their own; in this case, your doctor might recommend watchful waiting, as well as increasing your fluid intake to help flush the stones, and taking pain medication to help manage discomfort.

If the stone is too large to pass on its own, or if it’s causing urinary tract infections, blocking the flow of urine, or causing other complications, your doctor may choose from a variety of treatment options either singly, or in combination.

Kidney Stones: Treatment Overview jul04

What are the most common ways of treating kidney stones?

While the most common method of treating kidney stones is watchful waiting and letting the stone pass on its own, there are instances when other methods must be used to break up and remove the stones.

These are:

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a non-invasive treatment that uses shock waves to break up the kidney stones. The sound waves pass easily through the body but are strong enough to break up the stone. The stone fragments are then small enough to pass with the normal flow of urine.

Ureteroscopy is a minimally-invasive procedure in which a very thin scope (ureteroscope) is passed up the urinary tract to the stone's location. Anesthesia is generally used. Special instruments are then passed through the scope to either remove the stone or break it up for easier removal. Once the stone is removed or broken up your physician may place a temporary drain called a ureteral stent. This is a small hollow tube that runs from the kidney to the bladder and may be needed to keep the ureter open to drain urine and any stone fragments.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomyis an invasive procedure which is typically only used when you have very large kidney stones that cannot be removed either by ESWL or with an ureteroscope. It involves passing a narrow telescope through the skin at the back of the kidney. Special instruments are then passed again through this scope to either remove or break up the stone.

Open surgeryis reserved for only the most complicated urinary stone cases and is very rare. In open surgery, the doctor makes an incision in the skin and another in the kidney or ureter to remove the stone directly. Open surgery usually requires several weeks of recovery time.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:
Kidney Stones in Adults jul04

Kidney Stones: Treatment Overview jul04

Urology Care Foundation:
Kidney and Ureteral Stones

What types of products does Bard Medical offer to help my doctor treat urinary stones?

Bard offers a variety of products to help doctors surgically treat kidney stones. In ESWL, Ureteroscopic and Percutaneous procedures, special equipment is used to help insert the endoscopes and to aid in the removal of the stone fragments. Some of these types of instrumentation include:

  • Guidewires: These are the wires that are used to create a pathway to your stone. The scopes are then run over these wires.
  • Ureteral Catheters: These thin tubes are used to gently dilate your urinary tract so that the physician can reach your stone. They also can be used to inject contrast media, a solution that allows the physician to see exactly where your stone is under a specialized X-ray called a fluoroscope.
  • Stone Removal Baskets: Once the physician gets to your stone, he will need to remove it. Stone baskets like the DIMENSION® Articulating Stone basket/Grasper are used to remove the stones.
  • Ureteral Stents: Once the stone has been removed, your physician may want to put in a temporary tube called a stent, to provide drainage from the kidney to your bladder. Bard offers a number of stents, such as the INLAY OPTIMA® stent, which has been designed to be comfortable and easy for your doctor to insert.

What is a ureteral stent and what can I expect if I need one?

A ureteral stent helps keeps the passage from kidney to bladder open so urine can flow unobstructed out of the body. If there is an obstruction, and urine is allowed to build up, serious kidney complications could result. The stent itself is a thin, hollow tube with two coiled ends; one end sits in the kidney and one end sits in the bladder, and the tube itself lies throughout the length of the ureter. Ureteral stents are placed surgically, and are necessary if there’s a chance of obstruction from either a stone or a stone fragment, a narrowing (stricture) of the ureter due to scarring, or a swelling of the ureter following surgery.

If you do need a stent, you can expect to be able to carry on your usual daily activities, including work and sports. Occasionally, there are side effects to having stents in place. These could include back pain, blood in the urine, and an increased risk of urinary tract infections. The length of time you will have your stent in will be determined by your physician, but typically is only for a couple of days.

Your doctor can give you more information about ureteral stents, their benefits and their possible side effects. And for more information, click here to access a complete patient guide to ureteral stents.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:
Kidney Stones in Adults jul04

Joshi, H.B. et. al. Having a Ureteric Stent: What to Expect and How to Manage.
Southmead Hospital, Westbury-on-trym: Bristol, 2000.

How can I prevent kidney or ureteral stones?

Drinking more liquids—preferably water—can help prevent stones, as can avoiding certain types of foods, depending on the type of stone you may have. For some people, certain medications may be necessary to help prevent more stones from forming. Your doctor may prescribe certain dietary changes, drinking more water, or becoming more physically active.

If you've had more than one kidney stone, you are likely to form another; so prevention is very important. Your doctor will order laboratory tests, including urine and blood tests, and analysis of the stone itself—all of which will help him or her determine the cause of your stones and how you can prevent them.

National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse:
Kidney Stones in Adults jul04

How can I find a doctor who treats urinary stones?

Your primary care physician can refer you to an urologist who can help treat your urinary stones.


Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What type of kidney stones or ureteral stones do I have?
  • How serious is my kidney stone problem?
  • How quickly does the problem need to be treated?
  • What will happen if my problem is not treated?
  • What treatment choices do I have?
  • What is the likelihood that I’ll be free of stones after treatment?
  • How many treatments will I need to be stone free?
  • What is the risk for complications and what types of complications are possible?
  • How much will treatments cost?
  • How many days, if any, will I be hospitalized?
  • How much pain should I expect and for how long?
  • How much time will I need to fully recover?
  • What can I do to prevent future problems or kidney stones from developing?


The following terms will help you understand what your doctor tells you about your urinary incontinence, and your possible treatment.

View glossary terms

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