Kidney stones form when small crystals form in the kidney. Usually, these crystals travel from the kidney to the urinary tract, where they get expelled during urination. Sometimes, however, the small crystals manage to stay in the kidney, where they join with other small crystals to form a kidney stone. Most kidney stones are made of either calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, or both. Your course of home treatment will usually depend on knowing which kinds of kidney stones you have.
Deciding the Best Course of Treatment
Determine if you really have a kidney stone. While not all kidney stones cause people to have symptoms, even very small stones can cause severe pain. If you’ve already had a few kidney stones in your life, you might be reasonably sure that’s what’s going on. However, since the symptoms of a kidney stone overlap symptoms of many other disorders, it’s a good idea to receive a diagnosis so you can treat it properly. Here are the most common symptoms of kidney stones:
- Severe pain in the side and lower back, which often spreads to the abdomen and groin
- Pain that comes and goes in waves, and is present during urination
- Foul-smelling, cloudy, pink or brown urine
- Nausea and vomiting
Recognize that age and gender affects your risk for developing kidney stones. Specifically, males over the age of 40 are at greater risk.
Visit a doctor to get an imaging test. Getting an x-ray, CT scan or ultrasound (depending on what your doctor recommends) when you notice the symptoms of a kidney stone is the best way to determine how you should treat the stone. Imaging technology can reveal the size, shape and number of stones you’re dealing with.
- If you have a stone smaller than 5 millimeters, your doctor will probably advise using at-home methods to help the stone pass.
- If you have a larger stone or multiple stones, your doctor may prescribe a medication or recommend a different course of medical treatment to pulverize the stones so you can pass them.
Figure out what kind of stones you have. Kidney stones produce the same symptoms, but they can be caused by several different conditions. Knowing what’s causing the formation of your kidney stones will help you reduce their size and prevent them in the future. Your doctor may perform blood or urine tests to figure out what type of stones you have. After you pass a stone, your doctor might send it to a lab for analysis to determine its makeup. Here are the different types of kidney stones:
- Calcium stones: these are the most common type of stones, and are caused by a high level of calcium combined with another substance, such as oxalate or uric acid.
- Uric acid stones: these form when the urine contains too much acid.
- Struvite stones: these can form after a urinary tract infection.
- Cystine stones: this type of stone is caused by a rare genetic disease.
Home Remedies for Kidney Stones
Understand that some stones are easier to pass naturally than others. How readily a stone responds to home treatment mostly depends on the size of the stone.
- Home treatments are usually effective on stones less than 1/10-inch (3 mm).
- Once kidney stones reach about 3/10-inch (8 mm), they are only 20 percent likely to pass on their own with home treatment.
- Stones that are 2/5-inch (1 cm) almost always need professional medical treatment.
Make dietary changes to shrink stones. Since kidney stones are caused by the buildup of certain minerals, eating fewer foods containing these minerals can help to shrink the stones. This is especially effective if you have either calcium or uric acid stones.
- If you have calcium stones, cut back on the following foods that make the problem worse: salty foods, dairy products, oysters, tofu, and fatty foods. If you have calcium oxalate stones, you should foods high in oxalate, like rhubarb, grapes, spinach, sweet potatoes, coffee, and chocolate.
- If you have uric acid stones, cut back on the following foods containing uric acid: organ meat like liver and kidney, anchovies, sardines, beans, mushrooms, spinach, cauliflower, yeast, and alcohol.
Use apple cider vinegar. Apple cider vinegar is reputed to have an alkalinizing effect on the blood and urine, helping the digestive process better break down the kidney stone. They are a number of ways that you can ingest the apple cider vinegar:
- With raw honey. Mix one part apple cider vinegar with two parts raw honey. Dissolve in water if you can’t drink the mixture as-is.
- With lemon and olive oil. Create a kind of à la carte salad dressing by mixing the juice of 1/2 lemon, 1 teaspoon olive oil and 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar. Consume and follow with one 8 ounce glass of water.
Use dandelion root. Dandelion root is reputed to be an effective kidney tonic. Dandelion root is also effective in stimulating the production of bile, which carries away waste and aids in digestion. Take 500 mg of dandelion root as a supplement, drink dandelion tea, or eat dandelion greens as part of a salad.
Add lemon to your diet. Occasionally squeeze a lemon into your water or consume foods made with lemon juice.
- Lemon is high in citric acid, which is thought to be effective at breaking up calcium-based kidney stones. As the stones break down, they become easier and less painful to pass.
- Try to consume 1/2 cup (125 ml) of pure lemon juice daily.
- Note that other juices are far less effective. In fact, cranberry juice, apple juice, and grapefruit juice may increase your risk for developing kidney stones rather than helping you to break the stones up.
Drink diet sodas with a citrus flavor. While drinking sodas regularly is certainly not a healthy situation, some soda drinking could relieve and even prevent kidney stones from forming. That’s because citrus sodas contain citrate, which prevents calcium formation. If you’re not in the mood to drink a citrate-rich soda, supplements (in pill form) are available, as is a specially-made lemonade.
Eat kidney beans for kidney stones. Kidney beans may look that way for a reason. Kidney beans are a home remedy for urinary problems and kidney stones. Give this kidney bean tea a try if you’re at your wit’s end and you want to try something different:
- Take kidney beans (removed from their pods) and boil in enough water for six hours. Strain the liquid, let cool, and drink throughout the day as a way to ease the pain associated with kidney stones.
Try uva ursi herb for kidney stones. Uva ursi, also known as bearberry, is not only an effective home remedy for urinary tract health, but also a natural antiseptic and diuretic. Take 500 mg of uva ursi twice a day for kidney stone relief.
- Do not take uva ursi for more than a week continuously. If your kidney stone has not passed or the pain is still lingering, seek medical attention instead of continuing treatment.
- Follow all packaging instruction or directions by a pharmacist when taking uva ursi. Toxicity has been known to afflict patients who have taken more than 15 grams.
Take baking soda or bicarbonate of soda. Dissolve 1 tablespoons baking soda in about 1/3 to 1/2 small glass of water. Drink down quickly. It will taste salty but it’s bearable. This will dissolve the uric acid stones and help with the pain. It is a good alternative for people allergic to citric acid.
Rely on loved ones. Have someone rub your back or press their hand or fist firmly into the painful kidney. Laying flat on your stomach with a pillow under your pelvis might help. Do not be afraid to ask for help. This will also give your loved one a sense of being useful. Though you are experiencing extraordinary pain, your family and friends are experiencing the pain of not being able to do anything to help you.
Apply heat. Get a heating pad and place on the side(s) experiencing pain. Additionally, you can try getting into a hot shower, allowing the water to spray onto the afflicted area. These provide temporary relief, as they are methods of distraction for your body.
- The heat allows your mind and body to focus on an additional stimulus, taking the full focus off the kidney pain. The heat not only distracts the mind but also relaxes the tender, swollen muscles around the kidney. This allows some of the muscle tension to ease up, thus making it easier for the stone to work its way down.
Cry out or scream. There is no shame in vocalizing your pain. Most grown men who have experienced kidney stones will tell you there is no worse pain, and some women even place the pain above childbirth. Letting your frustrations out does not make you a wimp in this situation!
Medically Recommended Advice
Drink plenty of water and other fluids. Fluid intake will make you urinate, and urination will eventually help you pass the kidney stone. Only 1 or 2 out 10 kidney stones will require more than drinking lots of water and waiting, so make sure that if you do anything, you do this.
- Shoot to drink enough water so that your urine is light yellow or clear. This is a sign that you are drinking enough liquids.
- The National Institute of Health recommends that a person suffering from kidney stones should drink 2 to 3 quarts of water a day. If you’re feeling nauseous, try taking small sips as often as you can. This will help flush your kidneys as well as encourage that little mass to move.
Take pain medication, if necessary. Take NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. NSAIDs come in various forms: Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), or aspirin are all commonly-used NSAIDs. If you are under the age of 18, do not take aspirin, as it has been linked to a dangerous disease called Reye’s Syndrome, which causes acute brain damage.
- If you are dealing with a large, painful kidney stone, you may need to get a prescription-strength pain medication. Your doctor will be able to better diagnose the situation if this occurs.
- Advil or another medication containing Ibuprofen will help with the inflammation caused by the stone (and can be used in addition to narcotics prescribed by your doctor). However, these cannot be taken if you are pregnant.
Know when to see a doctor. Most kidney stones will pass with a little bit of patience and a lot of fluid. About 15% of kidney stones will require intervention from the help of a doctor. See a doctor if you:
- Have frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs). Urinary tract infections can get worse when a kidney stone is introduced.
- Have had a kidney transplant, have a compromised immune system, or currently possess only one kidney.
- Are pregnant. Treatment of stones during pregnancy usually depends on the trimester of pregnancy.
- You believe your kidney stone has been obstructing your urinary tract for two weeks or longer.
Ask about cause-based medications. Some prescription medications are only used to treat stones caused by certain problems. While some medications may help you to pass a kidney stone, others are primarily used for kidney stone prevention.
- Calcium-based stones are the most common type of kidney stone. Medications used to treat them include thiazides, potassium citrates, and orthophosphates.
- Uric acid stones account for 5 to 10 percent of kidney stones. Potassium citrate, sodium bicarbonate, and allopurinol are used to treat these.
- Cystine stones are much rarer and usually treated with potassium citrate, penicillamine, tiopronin, or captopril.
- Struvite stones come about as the result of frequent kidney infections and can be difficult to treat with medication. Your doctor will likely prescribe an antibiotic to treat any current infection and may prescribe urease inhibitors.
Try shock wave lithotripsy. Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is used to treat 80 to 90 percent of large kidney stones unless they are located in the lower third of the ureter.
- With ESWL, the patient lays under a machine called a lithotripter. This machine sends high-pressure sound waves through the patient’s body. The shock waves are strong enough to break large stones into smaller pieces, which can then be passed normally through urination.
Go in for percutaneous nephrolithotomy. This procedure is similar to a ureteroscopy, but it is slightly more involved and generally used for more serious stones.
- A tube is inserted directly into the kidney through an incision in the back. A probe sends shock waves through the stone to break it up, and a small tube called a nephrostomy tube is inserted into the kidney to drain urine and residual stone fragments.
- The patient usually stays in the hospital for two or three days following the initial procedure.
Ask about a ureteroscopy. This procedure can be used to break up or remove large kidney stones.
- A long, tube-like instrument called a Ureteroscope is inserted through the urethra and bladder to the ureter, where kidney stones usually form and get stuck.
- A special tool may be used to remove the stone, but if it is too large, a laser will be used to break the stone into smaller pieces that can pass through urination.
See if thyroid treatment is necessary. In some cases, calcium kidney stones are caused by hyperparathyroidism, which is when the thyroid glands produce too much parathyroid hormone. This can happen when a small tumor grows on a thyroid gland, or when a separate condition causes the thyroid to overproduce parathyroid. Once your doctor has determined the cause of the hyperparathyroidism, he or she will recommend the proper course of treatment to correct the problem.
How to Prevent Kidney Stones
Drink enough water. When your body doesn’t get all the water it needs to maintain a healthy balance, your kidneys will have higher concentrations of the stuff that forms crystals. The more crystals are formed, the higher chance of recurring kidney stones. Again, try to drink enough water so that the color of your urine is consistently light yellow or clear; dark yellow means you haven’t been drinking enough water.
Watch your weight. Research suggests that people with a high body mass index and greater waist sizes are at greater risk for the development of kidney stones.
Limit your salt and protein intake. Reduce your sodium intake to 3 g or less per day and consume meat protein in moderation.
- Salt increases calcium in the urine, which can complicate calcium-based kidney stones. Some studies suggest that sodium also increases urate, a substance that triggers kidney stone formation.
- Protein increases levels of uric acid, calcium, and oxalate in the urine while decreasing citrate. Meat protein is especially problematic since it has a higher content of sulfur, thereby producing more acid than vegetable protein.
Increase your fiber intake. Consume more whole grains and fresh vegetables while attempting to pass a kidney stone.
- Many fiber-rich foods contain phytate which can help prevent and reduce the crystallization of stone-causing calcium salts. This compound is found in legumes, wheat, and rice bran.
Get magnesium into your diet. Magnesium deficiency has been linked to the production of kidney stones. Simply put, magnesium keeps calcium from combining with oxalate and producing one of the most common types of kidney stone.
- Magnesium is present is many leafy vegetables, as well as:
- Black beans
- Pumpkin and squash seeds
Select potassium rich foods, including fruits and vegetables.
- Fruits that are high in potassium include bananas, cantaloupe and apricots.
- Vegetables with high potassium levels include potatoes, tomatoes and squash.
Stay away from sugar, soda, and corn syrup. Sugar disrupts the body’s ability to absorb calcium and magnesium, making it a culprit in the formation of kidney stones. If you want to give your body a healthier lifestyle, and avoid kidney stones while you’re at it, try cutting down on the sugar you consume.
If you don’t have oxalate stones, know that eating the occasional calcium-rich food is okay, but be careful about taking calcium supplements. Calcium-rich foods are acceptable to continue eating as long as they are done in moderation. These foods include:
- Cheese and dairy products
- Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale
- Soybeans and other soy products
Consider going on the DASH diet. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, and was originally developed as a diet for patients with high blood pressure. The DASH diet is high in fruits and veggies, low in animal-protein, and makes moderate use of low-fat dairy products.
Exercise. Exercise for 30 minutes every day. Jogging, biking, or other cardiovascular exercise will keep your bones from releasing excess calcium, which they do when you’re not getting enough activity. So find an excuse to go outside, join a sports league, or hit the treadmill that’s growing cobwebs at home. At the very least, try walking for 30 minutes every day.
Reduce stress. Some connection may exist between kidney stone formation and stress. While it is not clear that reducing your stress will help you to pass existing stones, it will at least help prevent the formation of new stones, thereby preventing further complications with existing stones.
Be especially vigilant if you have a history of kidney stones. According to studies, about half of all patients to come down with a kidney stone will have another within 7 years of the first. Be sure to take preventative measures if you’ve already had a kidney stone; it means you’re even more at-risk.
Reduce your chances of redeveloping a calcium stone, the most common type of kidney stones.
- Limit foods high is oxalate if you have experienced calcium oxalate stones. Spinach, chocolate, beets and rhubarb all are high in oxalate. Beans, green peppers, tea, and peanuts also contain oxalate.
- Contrary to former opinion, consuming more foods containing calcium such as milk, calcium enriched orange juice and yogurt can help break up kidney stones. Calcium supplement pills are not advised, however, if you are prone to developing calcium stones.
- Avoid using too much salt and sugar and increase your intake of magnesium and potassium.
- Avoid using antacid tablets containing calcium and vitamin D.
- Eat more fiber. Some research indicates that insoluble fiber combines with calcium in urine and is excreted in stools. This helps decrease the amount of calcium left in the urine.
- Do not avoid urination, this can worsen your kidney stones.
- Barley water mixed with cranberry juice sometimes works.
- Eat healthy and follow your diet plan. Plan a diet consisting of vitamins and other nutrients while avoiding fast foods and items high in saturated fat.
- Drink a blend of pineapple and potato. This will help remove them.
- Do not drink soft drinks or eat junk food because it will worsen your kidney stones.
- Limit or completely eliminate diuretics such as black tea, coffee and soft drinks. These will only cause the body to become dehydrated. Drinking only water and fruit juices is the safe way to go.
- Drinking alcohol is never a good idea for helping to flush a kidney stone. Because alcohol is a sugary diuretic, this will cause you to urinate more often, thereby becoming dehydrated. The high sugar contents of liquors also increase the risk of developing an infection.
- Some kidney stones will never pass or an infection might set in. If your stone does not pass within a reasonable period of time or you experience fever or chills, seek professional help.