Kidney Stones

Kidney stones can be distressing and agonizing, sometimes leading to extreme pain or health complications.

At UC San Diego Health's Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center, we want your first stone to be your last. Our kidney disease specialists are Southern California's leaders in innovative and effective surgical and nonsurgical options to treat, remove and prevent kidney stones.

A stone can occur at any time, so our kidney stone specialists are available every day of the week. You can get lasting relief with treatment options tailored for you by experienced urologists. You also receive personalized care to prevent a recurrence. Together, we can help you lead a pain-free and stone-free life.

What's a Kidney Stone?

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts found in urine. They can be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a pearl or even a golf ball, with smooth or jagged edges.

Many kidney stones are small enough to pass out of the body, often unnoticed. Sometimes, a stone is too large or gets stuck in the urinary tract (in the ureter, the bladder or the urethra), blocking the flow of urine and causing pain. Once you get a kidney stone, you are more likely to develop more.

Causes include:

  • Dietary habits, including eating too much animal protein or salty foods or drinking too little water
  • Genetics
  • Medications, such as laxatives and some migraine medicines
  • Health conditions, such as obesity, gout, high blood pressure and frequent urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Same-Day Care Options

If you have terrible pain and are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you can also get same-care using any of these options:

Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center

Our urologists are experts in diagnostic evaluation, metabolic studies, surgical techniques and nonsurgical therapies. We are ranked among the nation's best urology programs by U.S. News & World Report.

Our experience in the field is unmatched because we treat hundreds of people with kidney stones each year. We have special expertise in helping people with recurring kidney stones, complex cases such as “staghorn” or struvite stones, or medical conditions that may make kidney stones more likely. And we consult with other specialists to tailor your treatment plan based on your symptoms, diagnosis, preferences and overall health.

As part of San Diego's only academic medical center, we also treat the most challenging and complex cases. We combine our expertise in clinical care with an extensive research program to find new therapies for preventing and treating kidney stones. Please ask your UC San Diego Health doctor if you qualify for a urology clinical trial.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

Our team has the expertise and technology to diagnose all types of kidney stones accurately.

During your initial consultation, your UC San Diego Health urologist will evaluate your condition to manage your pain and decide which treatment is best for you. We review your medical history and do a physical exam to find out what's causing your symptoms.

We may use metabolic tests and advanced imaging techniques — including X-rays, ultrasound, CT scan, urinalysis and blood tests — to help determine the stone's size, shape, composition and location.

Medical Care for Small Stones

If you have a small kidney stone, we'll help you pass the stone as comfortably as possible. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Drinking plenty of water to help flush out the stone
  • Alpha-blocker medicines — such as Flomax (tamsulosin) and Uroxatral (alfuzosin)— to relax the muscles in your ureter so the stone can pass more easily

Advanced Treatments for Kidney Stones

Your UC San Diego Health urologist will help you decide the best treatment for you. When kidney stones don't pass by themselves, surgery might be the best treatment option, along with medical management approaches. We use minimally invasive procedures whenever possible. That means you have less pain, smaller scars and a quicker recovery.

Some Surgical Options

Preventing Future Kidney Stones

No one wants to experience kidney stone pain or surgery twice. We not only aim to treat kidney stones but also to stop them from developing again.

You can have kidney stones for years without knowing they are there or have passed. Once you've had a kidney stone, it’s up to 50 percent more likely to recur over the next five years. That's why long-term prevention methods are crucial. 

Our specialists determine the cause of the stone in 97 percent of cases, which helps to discover why your body is forming kidney stones. With this information, we can help you take steps to prevent kidney stones.

General Prevention Recommendations

Most kidney stones are diet-related. Here are some tips for adapting your lifestyle and avoiding getting kidney stones:

  • Drink at least 2 quarts of water per day
  • Eat less protein, particularly animal protein
  • Follow a low-sodium diet
  • Try to lose weight if you're overweight

Personalized Therapies

In addition to changing your diet and lifestyle, you may need to take medications, such as vitamin supplements, thiazide diuretics and Allopurinol, to minimize your risk of forming stones. This risk is especially true in Southern California and other warm climates, where you're more likely to be dehydrated.

Our dietitians can also work with you to develop dietary changes and tailor meal plans to help you reduce stone recurrence. We can work with any dietary constraints or concerns.


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