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Kidney stones

Kidney stones

Kidney stones are hard lumps that can form in your kidneys when there’s a build-up of certain chemicals in the body. Find out about the symptoms and how they’re treated.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like lumps made up of crystals that form from waste products in the blood. They can move around in your kidney or travel into the ureters (the two tubes that connect your kidney to your bladder).

They affect twice as many men as women. The stones can vary in size and severity, affecting the type of treatment you’re offered.

Kidney stones symptoms

Kidney stones can be so small that you don’t notice them. They often pass out of your body when you pee and may not cause any pain, but for some people, even small kidney stones can be painful.

Kidney stones of all sizes can cause symptoms, including:

  • Pain in the side of your abdomen or groin
  • Pain in the testicles
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Sweating and high temperature
  • Blood in your pee
  • Urine infection – this can cause symptoms like needing to pee more often, burning sensations when you pee and cloudy or smelly urine.

If you’ve got a kidney stone blocking your ureter (the tube connecting your bladder to your kidney), it can lead to a kidney infection.

What causes kidney stones?

Kidney stones form when there’s an imbalance of certain chemicals in your pee. This can be caused by:

  • Not drinking enough water and fluids
  • Some medical conditions that can raise the levels of certain chemicals in your urine

The following things can also increase your risk of having recurrent kidney stones:

  • Taking particular medication, including antibiotics, diuretics, antacids, and aspirin
  • Eating a diet high in protein and low in fibre
  • A family history of kidney stones
  • Being inactive
  • Having multiple kidney or urinary infections or having kidney stones before.

Kidney stones diagnosis

The doctor will look at your symptoms and your medical history. They may be able to diagnose kidney stones based on this information alone.

Other tests that may be needed to diagnose kidney stones include:

  • Urine tests – These help to show up infections
  • Blood tests – These are useful in detecting any substances that can cause kidney stones and to check your kidney function
  • Scans – If you’re in severe pain, you may need to have a CT scan or an ultrasound

Sometimes, doctors will give you some equipment to collect kidney stones. This helps them to provide the most appropriate treatment, depending on the type of kidney stones you have.

Kidney stones treatment

Treatment depends on the size of the stones and how much they’re affecting you.

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If your kidney stones aren’t too big, the first approach may be to try and pass them yourself at home. You can help this process by:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids, especially water
  • Avoiding fizzy drinks
  • Cutting down on how much salt you consume
  • Taking painkillers and anti-sickness medication to help ease your symptoms
  • Taking alpha-blockers to help the stones pass in your pee
  • Keeping an eye on the colour of your pee and drinking plenty of water to help change it from a darker shade to a pale colour

Treatment for larger kidney stones

Larger kidney stones are usually removed by surgery. This includes:

  • Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL) – Ultrasound shock waves are used to break the kidney stones down into small pieces so they can be passed in your urine
  • Ureteroscopy – The stone is either removed or broken down by laser treatment via a long, thin telescope called a ureteroscope that’s passed up into your ureter
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) – A thin telescopic tube is passed into your kidney through an incision in your back. The stone is then removed or broken down

Kidney stones prevention

Around half of people who have kidney stones get them again within five years. To help prevent kidney stones from returning, it’s a good idea to drink up to three litres of water each day to avoid dehydration. This also helps keep your urine clear, stopping waste products from building up and forming stones.

You can also follow the same advice in the section on treatment for smaller kidney stones above.

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP at Livi

Last updated: