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How to prevent and treat kidney stones

Specialists at our University of Minnesota Health Kidney Stone Program treat patients and help prevent recurrence of the painful condition.
Kidney stones are very prevalent; 13 percent of men and 7 percent of women will have a stone at some point in their lives. Urologic surgeon Robert Sweet, MD, FACS, oversees the University of Minnesota Health Kidney Stone Program.

The only thing worse than the agonizing pain of a kidney stone: knowing that when you’ve had one, there’s a 50 percent chance you’ll have another.

To improve those odds, University of Minnesota Health physicians have created the innovative, multidisciplinary kidney stone treatment program, overseen by Robert Sweet, MD, FACS, an experienced urologic surgeon—and a former kidney stone patient himself. Here, he answers common questions about kidney stones.

What are kidney stones, and how do they form?
Urine contains crystal-forming substances. Stones can form and start to grow when there are more of those substances than your urine can dilute. Small stones can pass through the body with no problem. Large stones may not be able to pass out of the kidney at all, and can cause damage to the kidney over time. When stones drop down from the kidney into the ureter, they can cause quite a bit of pain.

What warning signs or symptoms are commonly associated with kidney stones?
Often, you’re walking down the street, not doing anything in particular, when suddenly you hit the floor with excruciating pain, sometimes with nausea, sweats and vomiting. Sometimes, patients will report a dull ache in their side or back, or they notice changes in urinary frequency or blood in their urine.

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Urology Services.

How can I prevent kidney stones from forming?
Depending on the type of stone you have, changes in diet may help. Drinking the right amount of water is critical; you should be producing 2.5 liters of urine a day. Watching your salt intake is also important, as is eating more fruits and vegetables and getting the right amount of calcium.

What are my medical or surgical options for treating kidney stones?
Major surgery is almost never required.

Pain medicine and a pill that can relax the ureter can allow stones to pass out of the body. Doctors may also use shockwaves that target stones, breaking them up internally.

In ureteroscopy, a scope is inserted into the ureter until the doctor can see the stone, breaking it up with a laser, and often removing the fragments. For very large stones, a one-centimeter incision can be made in the back; we go directly into the kidney and use ultrasonic energy to break up the stone, removing large or infected fragments.

What sets University of Minnesota Health apart in its care for patients with kidney stones?
Medicine is moving toward care that is tailored to a particular disease, and the way that disease affects each person. Our Kidney Stone Program does both.

Kidney stones are very prevalent; 13 percent of men and 7 percent of women will have a stone at some point in their lives, and women are catching up with men. Kidney stones deserve specialized care with a multidisciplinary approach. At this program, patients have a team of specialists from across different disciplines determining the best treatment.