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Kidney Stone Treatments

Kidney stones — hard deposits of minerals and salts that form in your kidney — can be distressing and agonizing. Depend on their size or shape, many kidney stones are small enough and can pass out of the body on their own, often unnoticed and unaided. Sometimes, however, a stone is too large or can become stuck in the urinary tract, causing symptoms including severe pain, nausea, vomiting, persistent need to urinate frequently, or blood in the urine. In such cases, conservative treatment may not be sufficient.

UC San Diego Health's Comprehensive Kidney Stone Center offers innovative and effective options to safely treat and remove a variety of kidney stones. Our advanced imaging techniques can help determine the size, shape, composition and location of stones.

Our dedicated kidney stone team can offer innovative and effective options tailored to each patient. We specialize in helping people who have recurring kidney stones, complex cases such as large “staghorn” or struvite stones, or medical conditions that may make stones more likely.

Treatment Options for Larger or Problematic Kidney Stones

If you have large stones or stones that cause you problems, your UC San Diego Health physician will evaluate your condition and may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

This is why kidney stones are painful
  • Medical expulsive therapy, which uses alpha blocker medicines such as Flomax (tamsulosin) and Uroxatral (alfuzosin) to relax the muscles and help you safely pass a kidney stone that's trapped in the ureter. Multiple studies have shown that medications can increase the chance of spontaneous passage, decrease the time to expulsion, reduce the need for pain medications, and limit the need for hospitalization or surgical intervention to remove the stones. The medications are typically taken over four weeks.
  • Shock wave lithotripsy, which uses energy from sound waves to break up a kidney stone. It is the least invasive surgical technique and is generally performed on an outpatient basis.
  • Ureteroscopy, which involves passing a very thin tube (ureteroscope) into the urinary tract to the stone's location, where instruments can then be used to remove the stone or break it up for easier removal. Occasionally, you may need a small hollow tube (ureteral stent) placed in the ureter for a short time to keep it open and drain urine and any stone pieces. Ureteroscopy is often used for stones that have moved from the kidney to the ureter.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy, which is the most effective way to remove large stones. This surgery generally requires a small (1 cm) incision in the side or back and the use of a scope to remove the kidney stone. This procedure is performed on an inpatient basis.

​Appointments & Referrals


Kidney Stone Specialists