Kidney stones

Diagnosis of kidney stones

To diagnose kidney stones, your doctor will begin by taking a thorough medical history and conducting a physical examination. If your doctor suspects that you have kidney stones, he or she may order imaging tests such as CT scan or KUB (kidney-ureter-bladder) x-ray. These tests will show your doctor how big your stones are and whether your stones are candidates for shock wave treatment. The KUB test helps monitor your condition while the CT scan is useful for diagnosis. 

Your doctor may also order blood tests to evaluate your kidney function and overall health. This information will help the doctor decide on the best course of treatment.

Treatment 

Treatment and prevention depend on whether kidney stones are causing symptoms. Small stones may pass on their own without any treatment. If you are able, your doctor will likely request that your stone be analyzed so that they can figure out the type. They may recommend drinking plenty of fluids to dilute the urine and flush the stone. There are no special liquids, including cranberry juice, that are better for preventing or passing kidney stones. 

The length of time it takes to pass a kidney stone will vary with the location and size of the stone. Since this process can cause significant discomfort, pain medication can be helpful to keep you comfortable. 

For larger stones, medications can help by relaxing the ureters and assisting the stone in passing. If the stone is too big and blocks your urinary tract, preventing you from passing urine, you will need urgent treatment. This is especially true if you are vomiting and dehydrated.

A Dignity Health urologist can remove your kidney stone through several methods: 

  • Cystoscopy and ureteroscopy are used together to see inside the urethra and bladder to find the kidney stone and then remove or break the stone into smaller pieces. This procedure requires anesthesia, but you will generally be able to go home on the same day.
  • Shock wave lithotripsy is used to break the kidney stone into smaller pieces that you are then able to pass normally. This is an outpatient procedure.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy is performed in a hospital with anesthesia, and you can expect to stay a few days in the hospital afterward. Your doctor will use a nephroscope to find and remove the kidney stone through a small incision in your back. 

After any of these procedures, your doctor may choose to leave a ureteral stent in your urinary tract to aid in urine flow or allow a stone to pass. Most likely, you will also be collecting your urine for 24 hours after the procedure to monitor how much urine you produce and the mineral levels of your urine.

Recovery

Recovering from kidney stones will depend on the lifestyle changes that you are able to make. 

If you monitor your diet and consume sufficient fluids, it is possible to fully recover from your kidney stones and not have issues with them again. On the other hand, some people have conditions or a family history that predispose them to kidney stones. It is possible to have kidney stones more than once.

With mild, smaller stones, you will recover at home with little to no interruption to your daily activity. If you need surgery to remove your stones, you may need to recover for a day or two in the hospital, but can expect a full recovery afterward. 

When to see a doctor for kidney stones

While some kidney stones pass on their own and do not require treatment, it can still be helpful to see a doctor to help you manage symptoms and pain until the stone passes. If you have never experienced a stone before, it is wise to seek a doctor’s advice to rule out something more serious. 

In addition, if you have signs or symptoms of a kidney stone accompanied by any of the following symptoms, seek immediate medical attention: 

  • Difficulty passing urine, or blood in your urine
  • Pain so severe you cannot find a comfortable position
  • Pain accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.