The 4 Stages of Passing a Kidney Stone

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Your kidneys work hard to remove fluid and waste from the body. During this process, kidney stones can sometimes form. Kidney stones are hardened mineral deposits that can form in the urinary tract. They often pass unnoticed or can be extremely painful and require treatment.

This article provides a look at the four main stages of passing a kidney stone.

man with kidney stone back pain

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What Are Kidney Stones?

If you have too much salt, certain minerals, or chemicals in your system and a lack of urine, the excess material can form crystals in your kidneys. Other particles can attach to the crystals and form a "stone," a hard object that your body may try to pass.

About 1 out of every 10 people in the U.S. will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives.

Symptoms

If the stone is small enough, it may pass in your urine unnoticed. You may never even know you had one.

Larger kidney stones, however, can cause the following symptoms:

  • Severe back, side, or abdominal pain, often on one side, that may develop suddenly
  • Pain that may seem to come in waves several times an hour
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Blood in your urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills

When kidney stones move in your body, they can cause intense pain that almost feels like someone is jabbing you with a knife.

If it's extremely painful, or if you have a fever, feel nauseous, or are vomiting, you should seek medical care immediately. Kidney stones can be associated with infection, which needs immediate treatment. Go to the emergency room if necessary.

What Do Kidney Stones Look Like?

Kidney stones are pebble-like objects that can vary in size, ranging from as small as a grain of sand to as large as a ping pong ball. They can be smooth, have jagged sharp edges, and are typically yellow or brown.

Causes

Anybody can develop a kidney stone, but they are more common in men than women and are seen more often among White people.

Different types of stones have different causes, but some of the risk factors for developing kidney stones include:

  • Dehydration from not drinking enough water
  • A diet high in protein, salt, and processed sugar
  • Kidney disease
  • High levels of certain minerals, including cystine, oxalate, uric acid, and calcium
  • Taking certain diuretics (which increase calcium excretion in the urine) and antacids, which may have minerals that can precipitate and form stones

Types of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are typically identified by the main material they are made from. The most common are calcium, uric acid, and cystine stones. Struvite stones, made of magnesium ammonium phosphate, are often associated with a UTI (urinary tract infection) and can become large relatively quickly.

Stages

The development and natural passing of kidney stones can be broken down into four stages.

Creation

Kidney stones can develop when urine is concentrated due to a lack of water in the body. This allows crystals to form and attract other materials.

The creation of a kidney stone is not painful, but it can cause severe pain when the body attempts to get rid of it.

Stone Leaves Kidney

The second stage is when the kidney stone has entered the ureter, the tube that connects your kidneys to your bladder. The pain can come in waves as the ureter goes into spasms as it attempts to pass the stone.

Bladder Pressure

When the stone reaches the bladder, the pressure builds, and you will feel an urgent need to urinate frequently.

Exit

When you urinate, the kidney stone can be pushed out of the bladder and complete the process. There is usually little or no pain involved in this last stage.

How Long Does It Take to Pass?

It can depend on the size. A stone less than 4 millimeters can pass in a week or two. For larger stones, it can take up to four to six weeks to pass.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with a kidney stone, your healthcare provider will recommend that you drink a lot of water to prevent stone formation. They can prescribe pain medication as needed.

A surgical procedure called shock wave lithotripsy may be performed if you cannot pass the stone. This uses sound waves to break the stone up into smaller pieces, making it easier to pass.

Surgeons can also use an endoscope (a narrow tube with a camera at the end) to reach the stone and break it up.

You will be sedated during the procedure.

After the stone is extracted, it is vital you have a work up of what the stone is composed of and what can be done to prevent a recurrence of the stone.

Summary

Kidney stones are made of chemicals in your kidneys that the body cannot pass, often due to a lack of water. Kidney stones pass without notice, but larger ones are extremely painful.

If you have pain in your back, side, or abdomen that comes on suddenly, or if you notice blood in your urine or an urgent need to urinate frequently, it may be a kidney stone. If you have a fever or feel nauseous, see a healthcare provider immediately because you may have an infection that needs quick treatment.

A Word From Verywell

Kidney stones are extremely painful, but you can possibly reduce your risk of developing them by adjusting your diet and drinking plenty of water. If you feel extreme and sudden pain in your back, side, or abdomen, contact your healthcare provider or go to the emergency room for evaluation and treatment.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What can mimic kidney stone pain?

    Kidney stones are known for mimicking other kinds of conditions that cause pain. It may feel like you pulled a muscle in your back, or it can feel similar to appendicitis, a urinary tract infection, or gastritis.

  • How can you tell whether you have a UTI or a kidney stone?

    Kidney stones can cause severe pain that can come in waves in your back or abdomen. Other symptoms can be similar to a UTI, including an urge to urinate, blood in the urine, painful urination, and fever and chills. If you have these symptoms, see a healthcare provider.

  • Can a kidney stone pass in urine?

    Yes, a kidney stone can pass in urine without you even noticing it if it's small enough. For larger stones, your healthcare provider will instruct you to drink a lot of water to help it pass in your urine. If it doesn't, surgeons can use simple procedures to break the stone into smaller pieces or remove it.

  • Are there ways to have a kidney stone pass faster?

    Drinking plenty of water is the best way to urge a kidney stone through your system.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Kidney Foundation. Kidney stones.

  2. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms & causes of kidney stones.

  3. National Institute of Digestive and Diabetes and Kidney Disease. Definition and facts for kidney stones.

  4. American Kidney Fund. Kidney stone causes, symptoms, treatment and prevention.

  5. Khan SR, Pearle MS, Robertson WG, et al. Kidney stones. Nat Rev Dis Primers. 2016;2:16008. doi:10.1038/nrdp.2016.8

  6. Urology of Greater Atlanta. What are the stages of passing a kidney stone?.

  7. Urology Care Foundation. What are kidney stones?.

By Nancy LeBrun
In addition to her extensive health and wellness writing, Nancy has written about many general interest topics for publications as diverse as Newsweek, Teen Vogue, abcnews.com, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.