What are the best treatments for kidney stones? 

Kidney stones are increasingly common among Australian men and women, with as much as 8% of the population suffering at any time. 

Thankfully, they are easy to treat. Although it’s good to understand kidney stones to know how to manage them should they happen to you, as well as ways to avoid them. 

In today’s article, we consider the signs and symptoms, common types of kidney stones and the best ways to treat kidney stones to remove them. 

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What are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones? 

There are multiple signs of kidney stones, and some people will experience several, making it easy for a GP to recognise what is occurring in the body. Other people with kidney stones do not experience any symptoms at all. 

The main symptoms of kidney stones to watch out for are: 

Renal colic – an intense gripping pain in the back just below the ribcage 
Pain in the back that also radiates towards the front of the body near the groin 
Pain or difficulty when urinating 
Coloured or foul-smelling urine – pink or brown (which may indicate the presence of blood) 
Infection accompanied by a fever 
The feeling of needing to urinate more frequently than usual 
Small stones in the urine 
Nausea and vomiting 

Besides the discomfort caused by some kidney stones symptoms, they can also indicate other medical conditions that could require treatment. 

It is essential to diagnose and remove kidney stones to prevent them from causing other damage, such as blocking the flow of urine (which can damage the kidneys) or chronic urinary tract infection.  

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What are the Most Common Types of Kidney Stones? 

There are four types of kidney stones: 

Calcium: the most common kidney stones, combined with oxylate or phosphate 

Struvite: large, horn-shaped stones caused by urine infections 

Uric acid: softer than other types of kidney stones 

Cystine: extremely rare kidney stones that resemble crystals (usually hereditary) 

Once a specialist has determined the type of kidney stones you have, they can work on the best course of treatment. 

Diagnosis may be done by ultrasound, CT scan or X-ray. Stones that are passed in the urine can also be examined by a physician or kidney stone specialist to determine their category. A health care professional may take urine and blood samples too. 

What is the Fastest Way to Dissolve a Kidney Stone?  

Fortunately, most kidney stones pass without medical intervention, and several home remedies are suggested to help this happen quickly. 

These three drinks are said to assist with dissolving kidney stones and make them easier to pass: 

Apple cider vinegar: The acidic nature of vinegar is said to break down kidney stones and make them easier to pass. Mix two tablespoons in a glass of water and drink daily for help to pass kidney stones.  

Water and citrus juice: Similar to vinegar, citrus juices like lemon or orange contain citric acid, which can dissolve small kidney stones and speed up the passing process. This remedy is also recommended for preventing further stones from forming. 

LOTS of water: Drinking 2-3 litres daily can help kidney stones pass quickly. Water flushes out the kidneys, hydrating the body to pass and prevent kidney stones. Try increasing the recommended daily intake of 8 glasses to 12. 

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What are 3 Treatments for Kidney Stones?  

In many cases, no medical treatment for kidney stones is necessary as the patient passes them through their urine within a few weeks. Pain relief is often prescribed, particularly when severe, although hospitalisation for kidney stones is rare. 

Open surgery is uncommon in Australia, reserved for large obstructive stones that won’t pass when urinating or when the patient is at risk of organ damage. Instead, patients who require additional support are prescribed one of three urological treatments. 

Main types of urological treatments for kidney stones 

Endoscopic removalExtracorporeal Shock-Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL)
The procedure:A ureteroscope (a tube with a small camera attached) is inserted through the urethra or kidney to where the stone is located. Instruments attached to the tube break the stone up into fragments, enabling their removal.The procedure:A non-invasive procedure which uses shockwaves generated by electromagnets to fragment the stone so it can pass in the urine. Preferable treatment for smaller stones (less than 2cm in length). Can take several weeks for all fragments to pass, and around a quarter of cases need repeating.The procedure:The leading treatment for removing larger kidney stones (more than 2cm in length). Under anaesthetic, a surgeon inserts a tube and small camera through an incision in the skin. The camera lets the surgeon see the stone and fragment it for removal.

What is the Best Treatment for Kidney Stones? 

Kidney stones differ in size and severity from one patient to the next. It is critical to have your kidney stones assessed so you know their size and how they might impact your body when left untreated. 

If your kidney stones are too large to pass through your body naturally, you may require PCNL treatment in a private urology clinic or hospital. This is considered the best urological treatment for large complex kidney stones. Smaller stones should pass easily when urinating – although this might be slightly painful and require analgesics. A GP can help determine the level of support required to remove kidney stones before they cause damage. 

Of course, prevention forms the best medicine, and it’s no different with kidney stones. There are a few things you can do to help prevent kidney stones from occurring, as follows: 

Drink lots of water – at least 2 litres every day – to keep your body hydrated 
Limit your alcohol consumption, known to cause dehydration 
Limit sugar-based and caffeinated drinks
Reduce your salt intake 
Live a healthy lifestyle  

As well as supporting your kidneys, these healthy choices have wider benefits – like lowering your risk of diabetes, heart disease and hypertension. 

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When Should You Visit a Hospital for Kidney Stones? 

Fortunately, many people with kidney stones won’t need hospital treatment, with the stones passing easily within a few weeks. Yet for some people, kidney stones can cause further complications.  

If your kidney stones are not passing quickly, a GP may suggest you try a medication next. These are specialist drugs that either reduce calcium excretion or prevent the formation of uric acid stones.  

Or, if your GP believes your kidney stones are complex or large or you are in severe pain, they may refer you immediately to a hospital or for private urology treatment.   

Even when you have overcome kidney stones, they can reoccur at any time. To know what’s causing yours, make sure your diagnosis looks at why they are occurring. It could be that your fluid intake is too low, salt intake too high, your medication needs changing, or you have another health condition. Always seek guidance from a specialist when it comes to your health to ensure you receive the correct treatment. 

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Katelaris Urology in Sydney helps patients with kidney stones and other urological concerns such as prostate issues, bladder problems and erectile dysfunction.  

If you are concerned about your health, arrange a confidential chat with our team.  

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Digital, C. (no date) Kidney stones, Kidney Health Australia. Available at: https://kidney.org.au/your-kidneys/what-is-kidney-disease/types-of-kidney-disease/kidney-stones