Kidney stones - tips for prevention, treatment and relief

Posted July 13, 2020 4:59 a.m. EDT

North Carolina has the highest incidence of kidney stone disease in the country. While the causes aren't fully known, factors such as diet and environment could play a factor. The medical professionals at WakeMed offer some tips for prevention, treatment and relief of kidney stones. (sewcream/Big Stock Photo)

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Some medical professionals refer to North Carolina as the "stone belt" since there is a higher incidence of kidney stone disease in the state compared to elsewhere in the country. While the causes are not fully known, diet, environment, geographic location and family history may play a role in the formation of kidney stones.

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard collections of minerals and salts that form inside the kidney. They may form one at a time or several may form all at once. They are primarily caused by dehydration, excess body weight and diet; although, some medications, medical problems and family history can put you at risk.

What are the symptoms?

Kidney stones may initially cause no symptoms. The stones begin as small crystals in the urine that grow over time. The signs and symptoms of kidney stones when they start to pass are very acute.

The pain usually starts in your back, and it can radiate or migrate around to your side.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain that spreads to the lower abdomen
  • Painful urination
  • Severe pain in the side and back
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills

What are my treatment options?

If you have a stone that is causing pain, you should see a urologist – a doctor that focuses on diseases of the urinary-tract system and the male reproductive organs. A stone that is not causing symptoms can potentially be watched (or followed by your doctor) instead of treated, depending on its size.

If a stone is less than 5 mm, there is a 90 percent chance it will pass without surgical intervention. Alpha-blockers may also be used to help stones pass.

There are several surgical options and treatments for kidney stones, including minimally invasive treatments.

  • Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL) – sound waves are used to break up the stone into smaller pieces, making it easier to pass.
  • Ureteroscopy – a surgery done without incisions. A urologist uses a fiber-optic instrument (ureteroscope) to enter the urinary tract, directly visualize the kidney stone, fragment it with a small laser fiber and remove the pieces using a small fishing basket.
  • Percutaneous Nephrostolithotomy (PCNL) – usually reserved for the treatment of larger stones that cannot be removed using Shock Wave Lithotripsy or Ureteroscopy.

The right treatment option depends on stone size and location, which is determined by an imaging study (X-ray or CT scan) that is done by your doctor.

Preventing kidney stones

Dehydration is a key risk factor for stones. You can prevent kidney stones by drinking lots of water, adding fresh lemon or lime juice (natural stone preventers) and limiting the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet.

Individuals with a family history of stone formation, diabetes, obesity and certain other medical problems are at risk.

If you have a kidney stone, there is immediate relief available in the Triangle 24/7

The Kidney Stone Center at WakeMed is a 24-hour phone hotline available for those who think they might be passing a stone. WakeMed is the only health system in the Triangle to offer immediate help for kidney stones.

With one call to the "Stone Phone" at 919-350-ROCK (7625), patients can get the relief and treatment they need from an expert team, potentially avoiding a lengthy, costly trip to the emergency department. By providing immediate access to care, the Kidney Stone Center means patients don't have to wait in pain for extended amounts of time and, whenever possible, are able to bypass an unnecessary and costly trip to the emergency room.

Depending on a patient's history of kidney stones and symptoms, the Kidney Stone Center can call in prescriptions, arrange same-day appointments with board-certified urologists with WakeMed Physician Practices - Urology (five locations) and admit patients to the hospital directly for treatment.

WakeMed : Spotlight : Kidney Stone Center

'This article was written for our sponsor, WakeMed. To learn more, visit

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