Kidney stones

Sometimes urine contains so much waste material that it crystallises to form small stones in the kidney. Most people's urine contains chemicals that stop the crystals from forming. However, in some cases, these chemicals do not work efficiently.

The most common cause of kidney stones is not drinking enough fluids. They also develop through urinary tract infections and prolonged bed rest.

Please note: the information below does not constitute medical advice. If you have any concerns at all, speak to your GP or consultant.


If you are worried about your urinary symptoms, download the My WaterWorks Medical app and fill in the questionnaire which can be presented to your GP. 

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Learn more about Kidney stones

Kidney stones symptoms

Most stones start off the size of a small piece of gravel and can even pass out of the body unnoticed. If the stones are large they can become very painful. However, it can take years before they grow to a size that is big enough to cause symptoms.

Larger stones, or fragments of stones, can travel down the ureter (the tube from the kidneys to the bladder). This can cause extremely painful spasms of the wall of the ureter, referred to as renal colic. Symptoms can appear suddenly, including:

  • Excruciating pain starting in the back and spreading to the abdomen, groin and even down to the genitals, that causes an inability to remain still.
  • Frequent, painful urination.
  • Nausea, vomiting, that may be accompanied by fever.
  • Blood in your urine.


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Kidney stones diagnosis

A doctor will test your urine for blood or signs of infection. He or she may also check for signs of crystals and test urine acidity, as this may indicate what type of stone you have.

You may also have an X-ray of your kidneys, as the majority of stones are visible on X-ray. If you have no symptoms, it is common for these 'silent' stones to be picked up only when you have an X-ray for another reason, for example a general health examination.

Low-dose Computer Tomography (CT) scan of the kidneys, ureters and bladder is the definitive test for diagnosing kidney stones. It is a rapid,  non-invasive diagnostic imaging tool that is able to pick up 97-98% of all kidney stones. It is able to achieve this by producing axial images of the kidneys, ureter and bladder that are more detailed than standard x-rays.


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Kidney stones treatment

If the stones are only small and they stay in the kidney, you may be advised to simply drink lots of fluids to help flush the stones out; you should also rest and take painkillers to relieve the discomfort.

Other forms of treatment include:

Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy

  • The most common form of treatment for kidney stones.
  • Ultrasound waves transmitted through the skin and tissue cause the stones to break down into a powder, which can be easily passed through the urine with little pain.

Ureteroscopic stone removal

  • A small tube is passed through the urethra into the bladder and ureter. A surgeon can pass instruments through this tube to remove or crush the stone.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy

  • Suitable for very large or awkwardly positioned stones.
  • A surgeon makes a tiny cut in your back and creates a tunnel directly into the kidney.
  • Using an instrument called a nephroscope, the surgeon finds and removes the stone.

Open Surgery

  • Rarely used today, but sometimes necessary, usually in the case of very large stones known as staghorn stones.

Preventing kidney stones from coming back:

  • Drink at least 3 litres of fluids a day to avoid dehydration.
  • Drink fluids before you sleep to make sure that you continue to produce urine overnight.
  • Drink more fluids in hot weather, or if you have been doing strenuous exercise, to replenish the fluids lost to sweating.
  • Reduce sodium and salt intake as a high-sodium diet can increase the risk of kidney stone formation.

Need more information?

Speak to your GP if you show any sign of having kidney stones, or just want some advice about treatment. You can also find other useful websites via our links section.


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How TUF Helps

An app to transform kidney stone treatment

Mr Tsong Kwong has used funding from TUF to develop an app that could transform the way that people with kidney stones are treated.

The app, called the Urostone Tracker, seeks to give people with urology disease and consultants immediate access to up-to-date information about their kidney stone diagnosis on the patient’s smartphone, massively increasing the efficiency of treatment.

Tsong believes there are two main benefits of the app; efficiency, and the long term wellbeing of the person affected.

“When the patient goes into the hospital, they will have all their information with them, on their phone. This means they don’t need to have another imaging scan. That saves money for the hospital, but it’s also good for the person affected, because they avoid the radiation that X-rays provide.

“Also, the app can notify users of future appointments. So, for example, if someone has a stent put in (a small tube to help weak or narrow arteries), it will need to be removed, so the app will remind the patient of their appointment. This means that they will see their doctor regularly and this will improve their future treatment.”


Understanding the impact kidney stones have on quality of life

Mr Shalom Srirangam is using funding from TUF to understand the impact kidney stones have on patients’ quality of life, as well as the indirect cost – to the NHS, the economy, and patients themselves.

The project will run for one year and will collect data from 200-300 patients. The study will look at the cost to the NHS, the economy and to the patients for time taken off work. It will also aim to determine the cost benefits of each of the different methods of treating kidney stones.

Shalom said: “We are hoping we will be able to extend the pilot into a bigger-funded study to help quantify how much stone disease costs the NHS and also the wider economy. This study will have implications for hospital investment into kidney stones service provision and decision making. It may help influence NHS policy and fund-holders, bringing about changes to infrastructure.”


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How You Can Help

All of the work that we do to fight urology disease is funded by supporters across the country. Without support from people like you, we cannot do what we do.

When you donate to The Urology Foundation you join the front line of the fight against urology disease. Your money helps us to:

  • Fund ground breaking research into urology diseases so that we can find better cures and treatments
  • Provide training and education to equip all urology professionals with the tools they need to support and treat patients in hospitals across the UK and Ireland

Donate today to be a part of this fight. Or, to find out other ways you could support TUF, visit our Get Involved page.


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