Kidney stones are a common yet painful condition where solids build up in urine and form crystals. Many times these stones move through your urinary tract and out of your body on their own. But in some cases you’ll need the help of a doctor to move them along.
If you suspect that you have a kidney stone that isn’t going to pass on its own, the first thing your doctor will do is assess your symptoms. Your doctor may perform a number of tests to confirm the diagnosis and figure out what’s causing your stones.
- Blood and urine tests — These tests assess the health of your kidneys and look for high levels of stone-causing materials, like calcium.
- Imaging tests — X-rays, CT scans and ultrasounds are all helpful in spotting kidney stones. Some tests are better than others at finding smaller stones.
- Stone analysis — By first catching the stones with a strainer and then analyzing them, your doctor may be able to find out what’s causing them.
For smaller stones, your doctor might tell you to drink more water and use common pain killers to ease your discomfort. Your doctor may also prescribe a medication to help your muscles relax so you can pass the stone on your own.
Sometimes these measures don’t work because the stone is too big to be passed naturally or it’s causing damage or infection in your urinary tract. Then your doctor may advise using different procedures that will help you get rid of the stones, including:
- Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy — A procedure that uses soundwaves to break the stones into smaller pieces that you can then pass on your own.
- Stone removal surgery — Your doctor can remove larger stones through a small incision in your back. This will likely require going under general anesthesia. Or if the stone is small enough, your doctor may use a scope to reach the stone through your urethra and either pull it out or break it up into smaller pieces that can be passed naturally.
After the stones are out of your system, your doctor will likely talk with you about how to prevent getting kidney stones in the future. Helpful tips may include drinking lots of water and laying off foods that are likely to cause kidney stones, like animal proteins, salts and calcium supplements. You may also be prescribed medication that will prevent kidney stones.