Classes & Events News Get

Kidney Stones: What You Need to Know

March 25, 2024

A man with kidney stones clasps his abdomen.

More than half a million people head to the emergency room each year with painful kidney stones. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, 11% of men and 6 % of women will have a kidney stone in their lifetime — and those numbers are on the rise.

“Kidney stones form in your urine from a buildup of salt and minerals,” says Andrew Chang, MD, a urologist with Atlantic Health System. “Stones that are smaller than a pea, for example, can often pass through the urinary tract into your bladder with minimal concern. But, if a stone becomes lodged in the ureter and blocks urine flow from the kidneys to the bladder, it can cause some of the most severe and intense pain you may ever feel in your life.”

Signs of a Kidney/Ureteral Stone

  • Intense pain (back, side, lower abdomen)
  • Painful urination
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Testicular pain in men

Who Is at Risk?

According to Dr. Chang, a family history of kidney stones can put you at a higher risk of developing them. If you’re susceptible to kidney stones, there are few things you can do to prevent them from forming.

  • Drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated
  • Limit foods high in sodium and oxalate (spinach, nuts, chocolate)
  • Maintain a healthy weight and body mass index (BMI)
  • Manage health conditions: urinary tract infections, metabolic and gastrointestinal disorders

Passing a Ureteral Stone

Once a kidney stone becomes lodged in the ureter, several options are available. If small in size, many people may pass these on their own by drinking a lot of fluids. This may require taking ibuprofen or prescription medications to help control the pain, In more extreme cases (i.e., large stones or symptoms that are too severe), your urologist will discuss surgical options to break the stone into smaller pieces or remove the stone altogether.

“For someone with a stone stuck in the ureter, we usually allow a period of 30 days to let it pass out of the body,” says Dr. Chang. “It may be much quicker than this depending on its size, shape and location. However, if severe, persistent pain sets in, or you develop a fever and chills, it’s time for medical intervention.”

Two Key Dietary Changes Help

Dr. Chang says that two dietary changes can cut your risk of kidney stone recurrence in half. It starts with drinking lots of fluids — about two-and-a-half to three liters of water every day — and cutting back your sodium intake (limit to 2,300 mg per day).

“Most kidney stones are made of calcium, so people try to reduce their calcium intake, but that's not necessarily correct,” says Dr. Chang. “It’s the sodium that drives how much calcium is excreted into urine. It’s really about lowering your salt intake and, of course, to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.”

Be Proactive About Your Health

To stay safe and healthy, it's good to have a primary care provider who knows and understands your health history and wellness goals.

  • Men's Health
  • Healthy Living
  • Women's Health