How long do kidney stones take to pass? What to expect

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Kidney stones

The primary function of the kidneys is to eliminate urea and excessive minerals from the bloodstream, typically through urine excretion. However, in certain cases, a significant accumulation of these minerals can occur in the kidneys, resulting in the formation of crystal-like stones.

Kidney stones have the potential to develop in either one or both kidneys. Subsequently, they may traverse the ureter, which serves as the conduit connecting the kidney to the bladder.

Small kidney stones frequently travel through the urinary system without causing any notable problems or symptoms. Conversely, larger stones can become lodged in the ureter, leading to pain. If left untreated, they can potentially result in complications such as infection and kidney damage.

Several factors influence the duration it takes for a kidney stone to pass through the body. This article provides detailed information regarding the timeline for passing kidney stones, techniques to expedite the process, and available treatment options.

This blog post will discuss how long do kidney stones take to pass? What to expect.

How long do kidney stones take to pass? What to expect

The speed at which a kidney stone passes through the body is primarily influenced by two key factors: its size and location.

Size

The size of a kidney stone significantly affects the speed at which it will traverse the body. Generally, smaller stones tend to pass more quickly and with lesser discomfort.

The following are approximate timeframes for the passage of kidney stones based on their sizes:

  • For kidney stones smaller than 4 millimeters (mm), around 80% of them will pass naturally within approximately 31 days.
  • Kidney stones ranging from 4 to 6 mm in size will pass on their own in about 45 days in approximately 60% of cases.
  • Larger kidney stones exceeding 6 mm have a lower likelihood of passing naturally, with only around 20% successfully passing within approximately 12 months. However, it is advisable to seek immediate surgical removal for stones of this size.

Location

The location of a kidney stone is another important factor determining whether it can be passed naturally. Some stones originate in the kidney itself, while others develop in the ureter.

Kidney stones that form in the upper section of the ureter, near the kidney, have a different likelihood of passing naturally compared to those forming in the lower section, closer to the bladder.

According to findings from a 2014 reviewTrusted Source, approximately 48% of stones positioned near the kidney pass without requiring intervention. In contrast, the passage rate increases to approximately 79% for stones located near the bladder.

Ways to expedite the process:

One of the most effective ways to accelerate the passage of a kidney stone is to increase fluid intake, particularly water. Adequate hydration promotes frequent urination, facilitating the movement of the stone along the urinary tract.

Moreover, individuals can take preventive measures to hinder the formation of new stones and prevent existing ones from growing larger. These measures include:

  • Restricting protein consumption.
  • Reducing calcium intake.
  • Decreasing salt consumption.
  • Incorporating more citrus fruits into the diet.

Citrus fruits contain citrate, a chemical compound that aids in the prevention of kidney stone formation.

Additionally, consulting with a dietitian or physician can provide valuable guidance regarding specific dietary plans tailored for managing kidney stones.

Remedies for pain

Passing kidney stones can be an uncomfortable and painful experience. In certain instances, over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen can provide sufficient pain relief.

However, if an individual is enduring intense pain due to kidney stones, it is crucial to consult with a doctor. The healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medications to help alleviate the discomfort effectively.

Stages of passing a kidney stone

The stages of passing a kidney stone typically involve formation, movement, and eventual passage through the urinary tract. These stages can vary in duration and may involve symptoms such as pain, discomfort, and changes in urine colour. It is important to monitor the progress and seek medical attention if necessary.

Treatment and surgery

There are multiple nonsurgical treatment options available for kidney stones, which include:

  1. Alpha-blockers:

    These medications relax the muscles of the ureter, reducing painful spasms and facilitating the passage of the stone.

  2. Calcium channel blockers:

    These drugs widen the ureter, aiding in the smooth passage of the stone.

  3. Lithotripsy:

    This procedure involves using sound waves to break the kidney stone into smaller fragments, making it easier for them to pass through the urinary system.

Surgery is typically not the initial treatment choice for kidney stones. However, immediate surgical intervention is necessary for kidney stones larger than 6 mm, as they have a higher risk of getting lodged in the ureter, leading to potential infections and kidney damage.

There are two primary surgical options available for the removal of kidney stones: ureteroscopy and percutaneous nephrolithotomy.

Ureteroscopy is performed under general anesthesia. During this procedure, the surgeon uses small instruments inserted through the urethra to either remove or break up the stone. In some cases, a stent may be placed in the ureter to maintain its openness, facilitating the passage of any smaller stone fragments.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy is employed for very large stones measuring 10 mm or more. It involves directly removing the stone from the kidney through a small incision made in the back. The procedure requires general anesthesia and typically entails a hospital stay of 1 to 2 days.

When to see a doctor?

Smaller kidney stones typically pass without causing significant discomfort. However, larger stones can be painful and carry an increased risk of health complications.

Experiencing pain is an indication for individuals to seek medical attention. A doctor can assess the situation and determine if additional treatment is necessary to facilitate the passage of the stone.

Furthermore, it is important to consult a doctor if the following symptoms occur:

  • Intense and persistent pain in the back or side.
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine.
  • Burning sensation during urination.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • Presence of fever and chills.
  • Vomiting.

These symptoms may indicate a kidney infection, which requires prompt treatment to prevent more severe complications.

Summary

Kidney stones can cause significant pain and may take several weeks to completely pass through the body. It is advisable for individuals to seek medical attention if their stones become exceptionally painful or if they encounter other concerning symptoms.

There are various treatment options available for kidney stones. Drug therapies aim to relieve pain and discomfort while facilitating the passage of the stone.

However, if kidney stones are too large to pass naturally, surgical removal may be necessary. In most instances, individuals can resume their regular activities within a day or two following the surgery.

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FAQ

Q1: How long does it take to pass a kidney stone naturally?

Ans: The time varies, but smaller stones may pass in a few weeks, while larger stones can take several months.

Q2: What are the common symptoms of kidney stones?

Ans: Symptoms may include back or side pain, cloudy or foul-smelling urine, burning sensation during urination, blood in urine, fever, and vomiting.

Q3: How can kidney stone pain be relieved?

Ans: Over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen can help alleviate the pain, but consulting a doctor for stronger pain relief may be necessary.

Q4: What are the surgical options for kidney stone removal?

Ans: Surgical options include ureteroscopy, where the stone is removed or broken up through the urethra, and percutaneous nephrolithotomy, which involves removing large stones through a small incision in the back.

Q5: When should I see a doctor for kidney stones?

Ans: It is recommended to see a doctor if the stones are causing severe pain, accompanied by other concerning symptoms like cloudy urine, fever, or vomiting.