Answers to 4 Questions You May Have About Kidney Stones

Choices range from medication to surgery

kidney stones by ruler

Think you might have a kidney stone? Small kidney stones can sometimes be present for years without causing symptoms. When they pass, however, severe symptoms may occur.

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Here are answers to four questions you may have about kidney stones from Cleveland Clinic urologist Sri Sivalingam, MD.

1. How can I tell it’s a kidney stone?

Signs of a possible kidney stone may include:

  • A burning sensation when urinating
  • Blood in the urine
  • Pain in the abdomen, groin or upper back.

2. Can medications help me?

Newer medications — including muscle relaxants and pain medicine — can often ease the pain and help the stone pass naturally. Medications also are available to prevent future stone growth.

3. What does surgery involve?

For larger stones, a variety of surgical options are available.

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“We have made great leaps in the surgical treatment of stones. Highly successful, minimally invasive approaches now are available,” says Dr. Sivalingam. These include:

  • Shock wave lithotripsy. This procedure uses shock waves from outside the body to disintegrate kidney stones into smaller pieces, which then pass on their own. The outpatient procedure takes about one hour, and patients are discharged within a few hours. Based on the size, location and type of stones, you may be a candidate for this procedure.
  • Ureteroscopy. In this outpatient procedure, a tiny scope is inserted through the ureter (the opening where urine drains) and a laser is used to break up stones within the urinary tract. Fragments are removed with a tiny basket and sent for analysis.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy. This is another minimally invasive surgical procedure, in which a small incision (about 1.5 cm) is made in the back to break up and remove larger kidney stones using an ultrasound probe. This inpatient procedure is done under general anesthesia, and patients are typically discharged within one or two days.

4. How can I prevent future stones?

Once you get a kidney stone, chances are high that you may get another stone in the next five to 10 years, Dr. Sivalingam says.

“It is very important to identify your risk factors for stone recurrence, including diet, and correct any deficiencies to prevent future stones,” Dr. Sivalingam says. “Hydration and diet are important, yet often neglected in warding off kidney stones.”

More information

Kidney stone treatment guide

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