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Treatment - Kidney stones

Most kidney stones are small enough to be passed out in your pee and can be treated at home.

Treatment from a GP

Even small kidney stones can be painful. But the pain usually only lasts a couple of days and disappears when these stones have cleared.

To ease your symptoms, your GP might recommend:

  • drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day
  • painkillers, like ibuprofen
  • anti-sickness medicine
  • alpha-blockers (medicines to help stones pass)

You might be advised to drink up to 3 litres (5.2 pints) of fluid throughout the day, every day. You might need to do this until the stones have cleared.

To help your stones pass:

  • drink water – drinks like tea and coffee also count
  • add fresh lemon juice to your water
  • avoid fizzy drinks
  • do not eat too much salt

Make sure you're drinking enough fluid. If your pee is dark, it means you're not drinking enough. Your pee should be pale in colour.

You may need to continue drinking this much fluid to prevent new stones forming.

If your kidney stones are causing severe pain, your GP may send you to hospital for tests and treatment.

Treating large kidney stones

If your kidney stones are too big to be passed naturally, they're usually removed by surgery.

The main types of surgery for removing kidney stones are:

  • shockwave lithotripsy (SWL)
  • ureteroscopy
  • percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

Your type of surgery will depend on the size and location of your stones.

Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL)

Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) involves using ultrasound to find out where a kidney stone is.

Ultrasound shock waves are then sent to the stone from a machine. This breaks it into smaller pieces so it can be passed in your pee.

SWL can be an uncomfortable form of treatment. It's usually carried out after giving painkilling medication.

You may need more than 1 session of SWL to treat your kidney stones.


Pee passes through a tube called the urethra and into your bladder on its way out of your body. A long, thin telescope called a ureteroscope can be passed through this tube. This is a ureteroscopy.

The surgeon may try to:

  • remove the stone using another instrument
  • use laser energy to break it up into small pieces so it can be passed naturally in your urine

Ureteroscopy is done under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep).

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)

PCNL involves using a thin telescopic instrument called a nephroscope.

A small cut (incision) is made in your back and the nephroscope is passed through it and into your kidney.

The stone is either pulled out or broken into smaller pieces using a laser or pneumatic energy.

PCNL is always carried out under general anaesthetic.

Complications of kidney stones treatment

Complications can happen after the treatment of large kidney stones.

Your surgeon should explain these to you before you have the procedure.

Complications will depend on the type of treatment you have and the size and position of your stones.

Complications can include:

  • sepsis
  • a blocked ureter caused by stone fragments
  • an injury to the ureter
  • a urinary tract infection (UTI)
  • bleeding during surgery
  • pain

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2021
Next review due: 25 March 2024

This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.