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What are treatment options for kidney stones?

A kidney stone starts to hurt when it causes irritation or blockage. This can build rapidly to extreme pain. In most cases, kidney stones pass without causing damage—but usually not without causing a lot of pain.

Doctors usually first try to let kidney stones pass on their own. You may be asked to drink a lot of water to help pass the stone. For small stones, pain relievers may also be needed.

But if the stone is too large, blocks the flow of urine, or if there is a sign of infection, it may be removed with a non-invasive procedure or surgery. Shock-wave lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure that uses high-energy sound waves to blast the stones into fragments that are then more easily passed out in the urine. In ureteroscopy, an endoscope is inserted through the ureter to retrieve or obliterate the stone.

Rarely, for very large or complicated stones, doctors will use percutaneous nephrolithotomy/nephrolithotripsy. This surgery involves entering the kidney through a small incision in the back to insert a miniature fiberoptic camera and other small instruments  to either remove the stone or break it up.

Treatments help remove kidney stones, using one or more of these strategies:

  • Breaking up the stone so the smaller pieces can pass (a procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, or ESWL, sometimes called "shocking")
  • Removing the stone through the ureter (a procedure called ureteroscopy, sometimes called "basketing")
  • Removing the stone from the kidney (a procedure called percutaneous nephrolithotomy, or PCNL, and sometimes called PERC)
  • Holding the ureter open using a temporary tube called a stent so stone fragments pass more easily

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.