When to See a Doctor for Kidney Stones

If you’ve ever had a kidney stone, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Fortunately, many kidney stones are small and pass on their own. However, sometimes you may need to see a doctor for kidney stone treatment.

What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are hard objects that form out of crystallized minerals in the kidneys. They usually occur when there’s not enough liquid in the kidneys to flush out waste products. That’s why it’s so important to drink enough water each day.

The National Kidney Foundation estimates that one in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. They occur more often in men than women.

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Why Are Kidney Stones a Problem?

Kidney stones sometimes stay in the kidney, but oftentimes, they pass through the urinary tract. If the stones are small, they may pass with no symptoms and you may not even notice them.

Bigger kidney stones can cause blockages in the urinary tract, most often in the ureters. If your urine backs up from the blockage, it causes the kidney to swell. This can be extremely painful.

Kidney stones are rarely a life-threatening problem. However, untreated kidney stones can lead to complications such as:

What Are the First Signs of Kidney Stones?

You might have a kidney stone if you notice the following early symptoms:

  • Pressure or pain in your lower back or side (also called flank pain).
  • A stomachache that doesn’t go away.
  • Mild pain when you urinate.
  • Bloody urine.
  • In men, pain in the testicles.

When to See a Doctor for Kidney Stones

You may be able to treat your kidney stone at home by drinking lots of water and taking over-the-counter pain medicine. If you have any of the following symptoms, however, you should call your healthcare provider.

  • Extreme flank pain.
  • Frequent urge to urinate that does not go away.
  • Pain or burning sensation while urinating.
  • Blood in your urine.
  • Fever and chills.
  • Nausea and vomiting with inability to stay hydrated.

If your doctor can’t see you right away, you should go to the emergency room.

Kidney Stone Treatment

There are several ways to treat kidney stones, including:

Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL)

SWL is an outpatient procedure. Doctors use x-rays or ultrasound to locate the kidney stone. For the SWL procedure, you’ll lie on a table with a water-filled cushion on your abdomen or behind your kidney.

Healthcare providers then use high energy shock waves to break the stone into pieces. The smaller pieces can then pass through your urinary tract. This is the least invasive form of kidney stone treatment.

Laser treatment

Sometimes doctors use high-tech lasers to break up kidney stones. They insert thin laser fibers into the urinary tract, which then transmit energy to break up the kidney stone.

Doctors typically use lasers in combination with ureteroscopy or percutaneous nephrolithotomy — two methods of locating the kidney stones for treatment.

Ureteroscopy

A ureteroscope is a long, thin instrument inserted through the urethra that doctors use to look for kidney stones in the ureters and kidneys. Once the doctor finds them, they may remove the stone with a device called a basket. Or they may use lasers to break it up into smaller pieces.

Patients will be under general anesthesia for the procedure, but can usually go home the same day.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy

In this procedure, your doctor makes a small incision in your back and passes an instrument called a nephroscope into your kidney. They can either pull the stone out or break it up using laser or other energy.

While this procedure takes place, patients will be under general anesthesia. You may have to stay in the hospital for a few days afterward.

After Treatment

After your kidney stone treatment is over, your doctor may:

  • Leave a ureteral stent (a thin flexible tube) in your urinary tract to help the stone pass if it hasn’t already.
  • Ask you to collect your urine for 24 hours. From this collection, your doctor can tell if you’re making enough urine each day. They can also test your urine for high mineral levels that lead to kidney stones.
  • Ask you to strain your urine to collect any stray pieces of kidney stone. They can analyze the stone to find out what caused it.
  • Prescribe antibiotics to prevent infection or medications to help prevent more kidney stones.
  • Give you diet recommendations and tips for avoiding future kidney stones. The most important one is to drink plenty of water — at least eight 8-ounce glasses per day. If you’re properly hydrated, your urine should look light-colored or clear instead of dark.
Sources

NHS, Kidney Stone Treatment, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Definitions & Facts for Kidney Stones, Link

National Kidney Foundation, Kidney Stones, Link

National Kidney Foundation, Lithotripsy, Link

Urology Care Foundation, What Are Kidney Stones? Link

Urology Care Foundation, Preventing and Treating Kidney Stones, Link

Urology Care Foundation, A Patient's Guide to Laser Treatment for Urinary Stones, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Treatment for Kidney Stones, Link

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Treatment for Kidney Stones: How do health care professionals treat kidney stones? Link

About Urology

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.