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Kidney Stones

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​Appointments and Referrals

 858-657-7876

 For Referring Physicians

Kidney stones can be distressing and agonizing, and in some cases, lead 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 stone.

Our kidney disease specialists are Southern California’s leaders in innovative and effective options — both surgical and nonsurgical — to treat, remove and prevent kidney stones.

A stone can occur at any time, so we have kidney stone specialists 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 and What Causes It?

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 on their own, 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)

When to See a Doctor

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If a kidney stone gets stuck in your urinary tract, you may experience excruciating pain. Generally, symptoms may include:

  • Severe pain in lower back, lower abdomen and groin area
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria)
  • Urge to urinate more often
  • Burning sensation during urination with fever and chills

If you have any of these problems, call us or your primary care doctor. 

You can also visit an Urgent Care or Express Care clinic or go to the ER for emergency help.

Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center

U.S. News & World Report -- UC San Diego Health Ranked Nationally in Urology

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 who have 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 any of our urology clinical trials.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones

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

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

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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 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. 

Surgical options include:

  • Shock wave lithotripsy: This procedure uses energy from sound waves to safely break up stones so they can easily pass into the bladder and out of your body. The procedure, which is done under intravenous (IV) sedation or general anesthesia, takes about one hour. It’s the least invasive option and you’ll typically return home the same day as your procedure. Our advanced shock wave lithotripsy equipment minimizes radiation exposure.
  • Ureteroscopy: A tiny endoscope is passed through the opening of your urinary tract and guided to the bladder and ureter. Using the thin, flexible tube with a small camera and light attached, your surgeon can see and break up or remove stones. The procedure, which is done under general anesthesia, takes about 1.5 hours. You’ll typically return home the same day.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy: Your doctor makes a small incision in your back and guides a thin, flexible tube called an endoscope to your kidney to break up and remove the stone. It is often the most effective way to remove larger stones. This procedure is done under general anesthesia and it takes about three hours. You typically stay at the clinic for two to three days.

Preventing Future Kidney Stones

​Urology Research

Make a financial gift to support the Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center fellowship program, which helps physicians gain additional clinical training and experience.

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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’re there or that they’ve passed. Once you’ve had a kidney stone, though, it’s up to 50 percent more likely to recur over the next five years. That’s why long-term prevention methods are very important. 

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 to adapt your lifestyle and avoid 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.