It depends! Just as there is a wide range of conditions that cause kidney stones, there are also a number of safe and effective methods of treating them. Treatment options may vary depending on the stones' composition and size and and any underlying health conditions you may have. Common treatment options for getting rid of kidney stones include:
Drink water and let the stones pass: Drinking plenty of water can help dilute the urine and keep kidney stones from forming in the first place. If you have been diagnosed with small kidney stones, you may be able to let the stones pass by themselves. This can cause some discomfort, so it is recommended that you use over-the-counter medication such as ibuprofen to help reduce any pain you may experience while passing the stones.
Medication: Prescription medication, known as alpha-blockers, relax muscles in the ureters, making it easier for stones to pass. Because passing stones can be painful, it is recommended that you supplement alpha-blockers with over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen.
To prevent further stone formation, a diuretic may be prescribed to prevent calcium buildup in the urine, usually along with a form of potassium citrate (oral supplements that lower the acidity of urine). If you have been diagnosed with uric acid stones, your doctor may prescribe allopurinol (Zyloprim) to prevent uric acid levels from rising in the urine.
Shock wave lithotripsy: Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a fancy term that basically describes the use of sound waves to break the stones in kidneys into small pieces. Smaller pieces are easier to pass and will cause less pain while doing so. ESWL only takes about 1 hour but will cause moderate pain. Because of this, you will be given anesthesia to help reduce discomfort. ESWL is often done as an outpatient procedure at a urology clinic, meaning you can go home after the procedure. You may experience some bruising on the back or abdomen, as well as some blood in the urine. These side effects are common, and it should be noted that ESWL is considered a very safe and effective form of treatment for kidney stones. Side effects will wear off in a few days, and can be managed with over-the-counter pain relievers.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL): PCNL is a surgical procedure that is used to remove large kidney stones. You will be given general anesthesia as a sedative, as doctors remove stones from a small cut in the back or side. A scope is inserted into the incision in the back, and suction breaks up and removes the small pieces of stone in the kidney. You will have to remain in the hospital or clinic for a day or two after this procedure to recover and should allow a week or two before you resume your normal activities.
Ureteroscopy: After receiving general anesthesia, a tiny scope (the ureteroscope) will be inserted through the urethra and into the kidney. The scope will show where small stones are in the urinary system, and special tools (sort of like a little basket) will be used to remove them. Ureteroscopy is usually done as an outpatient procedure at a urology clinic. You can usually go home the day of, and resume normal activities within a day or two of the procedure.