Kidney stones can be painful. While some kidney stones are small and pass harmlessly out of the body, others can lead to complications like infections and kidney damage.
In some cases, it may be ok to treat kidney stones at home. It depends on whether the kidney stone is blocking the urinary tract — and how much pain it’s causing.
What Are Kidney Stones?
A kidney stone is a hard mass that forms from crystals in the urine. They can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. Sometimes they stay in the kidney, but they often travel through the urinary tract.
If a kidney stone is small enough, you may not even know you have one as it passes through the urinary system.
A large kidney stone can cause significant pain. It can also block the flow of urine, causing harmful backups.
The most common type of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones.
Calcium naturally binds to a substance called oxalate. Ideally, calcium binds with oxalate in the stomach and intestines before moving to the kidneys. Then, the substances leave the body without forming stones.
However, if calcium and oxalate combine in the urine, they can form kidney stones, especially if there’s not enough liquid.
Kidney stones are common. The National Kidney Foundation estimates that one in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. They affect more men than women.
What are the Symptoms?
If you’ve had kidney stones before, you may recognize the signs. Typical symptoms of kidney stones are:
- Constant need to urinate.
- Bloody urine.
- Pain in your lower back or side (flank pain).
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What are the Risk Factors?
There’s no one cause for kidney stones, but some people are more likely to get them. Risk factors include:
- Eating a high-protein and/or high-salt (sodium) diet.
How to Treat Kidney Stones at Home
Some people treat kidney stones at home using remedies like apple cider vinegar, pomegranate juice, and dandelion tea. But these have not been clinically proven to dissolve kidney stones.
If you feel a kidney stone coming on — or want to prevent future stones from forming — try these methods.
Drink lots of water
The absolute best kidney stone home remedy is simple: Drink more water. The liquid will help flush the stones through your urinary tract. Aim for at least 12 eight-ounce glasses of water per day if you’re trying to pass a stone.
If possible, catch the stone in a strainer when it passes. Your doctor may want to examine it to determine what kind of kidney stone you have.
After the stone passes, keep drinking lots of water to help prevent more stones from forming. If you’re well-hydrated, your urine should be pale yellow. Dark urine is a sign of dehydration.
Cut back on other drinks
Drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, and soda can increase dehydration. It’s best to stick to water to flush out kidney stones.
Add lemons to your water and food
Lemon juice contains the chemical citrate. Citrate may help break up small kidney stones. Citrate also helps stop kidney stones from forming in the first place.
To get the benefit, add four ounces of lemon juice to your water throughout the day. You can also spritz lemon juice on salads and other veggies.
Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers
To help relieve the discomfort of kidney stones, you can take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). They include OTC pain medications like ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®), acetaminophen (Tylenol®), and naproxen (Aleve®). Follow the package directions for correct dosage.
Avoid salty foods
A high sodium diet increases the chances of kidney stones forming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day. But if you’re susceptible to kidney stones, you should limit sodium to 1,500 mg per day.
While cutting back on salt won’t immediately help your kidney stone pass, it can help prevent more kidney stones from forming.
Cut back on animal protein
A meat-heavy diet raises your risk of getting kidney stones. Replace some servings of meat, fish, poultry, and eggs with high-protein plant-based foods like beans, edamame, and tofu.
Eat the right amounts of foods with calcium and oxalate
If you have a history of calcium oxalate kidney stones, ask your doctor about how you should adjust your diet.
To help prevent kidney stones from forming, it’s important to include foods containing calcium in your diet and with normal meals. That way, the calcium binds to the oxalate in the digestive tract and prevents it from forming stones in the urine. Avoid eating too many high-oxalate foods.
Calcium-rich foods include:
- Green, leafy vegetables
Oxalate-rich foods to avoid include:
- Sweet potatoes
When to See a Doctor
Sometimes a kidney stone home remedy isn’t enough. You need to see a doctor right away if you have:
- Severe pain
- Blood in your urine
- Trouble urinating
Your doctor can treat larger kidney stones with medicine or in some cases surgery.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Treatment for Kidney Stones, Link
National Kidney Foundation, 6 Easy Ways to Prevent Kidney Stones, Link
National Kidney Foundation, Kidney Stone Diagnosis, Link
NHS, Kidney Stones Treatment, Link
Urology Care Foundation, How Kidney Stones are Diagnosed and Treated, Link
Harvard Medical School, 5 things that can help you take a pass on kidney stones, Link
Consumer Reports, Natural Remedies for Kidney Stones, Link
CDC, Sodium, Link
The UPMC Department of Urology offers a wide variety of specialized care for diseases of the male and female urinary tract and the male reproductive organs, including erectile dysfunction, kidney stones, urinary incontinence, prostate cancer, and more. We have a multifaceted team of physicians and researchers working together to provide the best care to both children and adults. Our team is nationally renowned for expertise in highly specialized technologies and minimally invasive surgical techniques. To find a provider near you, visit our website.