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Treatment - Kidney stones

Most kidney stones are small enough to be passed out in your pee and can probably be treated at home.

Treating small kidney stones

Small kidney stones may cause pain until you pass them, which usually takes 1 or 2 days.

A GP may recommend a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) to help with pain.

To ease your symptoms, a GP might also recommend:

  • drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day
  • anti-sickness medicine
  • alpha-blockers (medicines to help stones pass)

You might be advised to drink up to 3 litres (5.2 pints) of fluid throughout the day, every day, until the stones have cleared.

To help your stones pass:

  • drink water, but drinks like tea and coffee also count
  • add fresh lemon juice to your water
  • avoid fizzy drinks
  • do not eat too much salt

Make sure you're drinking enough fluid. If your pee is dark, it means you're not drinking enough. Your pee should be pale in colour.

You may be advised to continue drinking this much fluid to prevent new stones forming.

If your kidney stones are causing severe pain, your GP may send you to hospital for tests and treatment.

Treating large kidney stones

If your kidney stones are too big to be passed naturally, they're usually removed by surgery.

Surgery for treating kidney stones

The main types of surgery for removing kidney stones are:

  • shockwave lithotripsy (SWL)
  • ureteroscopy
  • percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

Your type of surgery will depend on the size and location of your stones.

Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL)

SWL involves using ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves) to pinpoint where a kidney stone is.

Ultrasound shock waves are then sent to the stone from a machine to break it into smaller pieces so it can be passed in your urine.

SWL can be an uncomfortable form of treatment, so it's usually carried out after giving painkilling medication.

You may need more than 1 session of SWL to successfully treat your kidney stones.


Ureteroscopy involves passing a long, thin telescope called a ureteroscope through the tube urine passes through on its way out of the body (the urethra) and into your bladder.

It's then passed up into your ureter, which connects your bladder to your kidney.

The surgeon may either try to gently remove the stone using another instrument, or they may use laser energy to break it up into small pieces so it can be passed naturally in your urine.

Ureteroscopy is carried out under general anaesthetic, where you're asleep.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

PCNL involves using a thin telescopic instrument called a nephroscope.

A small cut (incision) is made in your back and the nephroscope is passed through it and into your kidney.

The stone is either pulled out or broken into smaller pieces using a laser or pneumatic energy.

PCNL is always carried out under general anaesthetic.

Complications of treatment

Complications can occur after the treatment of large kidney stones.

Your surgeon should explain these to you before you have the procedure.

Possible complications will depend on the type of treatment you have and the size and position of your stones. 

Complications could include:

  • sepsis, an infection that spreads through the blood, causing symptoms throughout the whole body
  • a blocked ureter caused by stone fragments (the ureter is the tube that attaches the kidney to the bladder)
  • an injury to the ureter
  • a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • bleeding during surgery
  • pain

Page last reviewed: 30 November 2022
Next review due: 30 November 2025