Nephrolithiasis, the proper medical term for kidney stones, is a buildup of mineral deposits that can form anywhere inside the urinary tract. These crystallized mineral deposits can greatly vary in size, from unnoticeable to several inches wide. Regardless of initial size, kidney stones can grow in size and result in further health complications.
As urine is filtered by the kidneys and passed out of the bladder, chemicals inside the urine can build up when not diluted by enough water intake, among other factors. The buildup of these concentrated minerals leads to proteins like calcium solidifying into “stones” located in the kidneys, ureters, and bladder.
The vast majority of kidney stones can be passed by individuals over time, however, some require medical treatment in order to be removed. The size and location of kidney stones play important roles in their probability of being passed naturally.
How Big Are Kidney Stones?
The size of kidney stones can vary greatly, and depends upon the health of the individual’s urinary tract, along with other factors like fluid intake, protein diet, vitamin D levels, and more. A majority of kidney stones are smaller than 4 mm or .15 in. These smaller kidney stones are likely to pass on their own without medical intervention and take an average of 31 days to exit out the body.
Kidney stones between 4 mm and 6 mm are only about 60 percent likely to pass on their own, taking an average of 45 days to exit. Finally, for kidney stones growing to 6 mm and bigger are highly likely to need medical treatment in order to be removed from the body.
While size is the primary determinant if a kidney stone can pass on its own, the location also plays a role in its ability to successfully travel through the urinary tract. Research has shown that nearly 80 percent of kidney stones formed closer to the bladder are able to pass on their own. While those formed higher up in the urinary tract, near the kidneys, are less than 50 percent likely to pass without medical assistance.
How Kidney Stones Are Helped
If a urologist determines the size of your kidney stone is smaller enough to pass naturally, the best way to speed up the process is:
- Drink plenty of water (at least 3 quarts of water per day)
- Lower diet intake of salts and protein-rich foods
- Consume juices (lemon, basil, pomegranate, apple cider vinegar)
However, if the kidney stone is slow progressing or too big, your urologist may suggest several medications, treatments, or surgery to remove the mineral buildups.
Calcium channel blockers: A medication that helps to reduce spasming of the ureter, while also widening the duct to enable the kidney stones to pass more easily.
Alpha blockers: A medication that relaxes the ureter and associated muscles to relieve pain and pass the kidney stone.
Lithotripsy: A nonsurgical treatment that uses high-energy shock waves to break up the kidney stones into smaller pieces. This enables the stones to be passed easier.
Surgery: If all other options are exhausted or the kidney stone is simply too large, invasive surgery may be needed. Kidney stones larger than 6 mm may block urine flow and result in infection or damage to the urinary tract. Therefore, surgery to extract the kidney stones is necessary.
Need to See a Urologist?
If you are experiencing kidney pain, or suspect you might be suffering from kidney stones, contact our office to be seen by a specialist.