Stages Of Passing A Kidney Stone

Stages Of Passing A Kidney Stone
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When the stone reaches the bladder, the pressure builds up in the organ. At this stage of passing a kidney stone, you will feel an urgent need to urinate frequently. Typically, the majority of intense pain is improved or resolved once the stone exits the ureter

What to know about passing a kidney stone

The kidneys are responsible for removing urea and excess minerals from the blood. The body usually excretes these products in the urine. In some cases, however, large amounts of these minerals can accumulate in the kidneys, forming crystal-like stones.

Kidney stones can form in one or both kidneys. From here, they may pass into the ureter, which is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder.

Small kidney stones often travel without any issues and may not cause symptoms. Larger stones can lodge themselves in the ureter, causing pain. Without removal, they may cause complications such as infection and kidney damage.

There are several factors that can affect how quickly a kidney stone passes. This article provides more information on the time it takes to pass a kidney stone, ways to speed up the process, and treatment options.

There are two main factors that determine how quickly a stone will pass: size and location.


a woman holding her back because of kidney pain and wondering how long it will take to pass.

The size of a kidney stone plays a role in how quickly it will pass through a person’s body. In general, smaller stones pass faster and with less pain.

Below are the approximate timelines for passing kidney stones of different sizes:

  • Around 80% of kidney stones that are smaller than 4 millimeters (mm) will pass on their own in about 31 days.
  • Approximately 60% of kidney stones that are 4–6 mm will pass on their own in about 45 days.
  • Around 20% of kidney stones that are larger than 6 mm will pass on their own in about 12 months. However, when stones are this large, it is best to seek immediate surgical removal.


The location of the kidney stone also plays a role in whether or not a person will be able to pass it naturally. Some stones form in the kidney itself, while others may form in the ureter.

Kidney stones that form in the upper part of the ureter are close to the kidney. Those that form in the lower part are close to the bladder.

According to research outlined in a 2014 review , 48% of stones that form close to the kidney pass without intervention. This number rises to 79% for stones that form close to the bladder.

The best way to help speed up the process of passing a kidney stone is to drink plenty of water. The excess fluid encourages urination, which helps move the stone along.

A person can also take steps to prevent new stones from forming and to stop existing ones from growing larger. These steps include:

  • limiting protein intake
  • reducing calcium intake
  • consuming less salt
  • eating more citrus fruits

Citrus fruits contain the chemical citrate, which helps prevent the formation of kidney stones.

Additionally, dietitians or doctors can suggest diet plans for kidney stone management.

Passing kidney stones can be uncomfortable and even painful. In some cases, taking over-the-counter medications such as ibuprofen may be enough to alleviate the pain.

If a person is experiencing particularly painful kidney stones, they should talk to their doctor, who may be able to prescribe stronger pain relief medications.

Share on Pinterest A person should talk to their doctor if they experience persistent pain in the back or side.

Smaller kidney stones may pass on their own, causing minimal discomfort. However, large stones can be painful and increase the risk of health complications.

Pain is an indicator that a person should see a doctor. They can determine whether or not the stone requires additional treatment to help it pass.

People should also see a doctor if they experience the following symptoms:

  • severe and persistent pain in the back or side
  • cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • a burning feeling when urinating
  • blood in the urine
  • fever and chills
  • vomiting

These may be signs of a kidney infection, which requires prompt treatment to prevent more serious complications.

There are several nonsurgical treatments for kidney stones. These include:

  • Alpha-blockers: These drugs relax the ureter, alleviating painful spasms and helping the stone pass.
  • Calcium channel blockers: These drugs widen the ureter, helping the stone pass through.
  • Lithotripsy: This procedure uses sound waves to break the stone into smaller fragments that can pass more easily.

Surgery is rarely the first choice of treatment. However, kidney stones larger than 6 mm require immediate surgery. Stones this large can stick in the ureter, causing infections and kidney damage.

There are two main surgical options for kidney stone removal: ureteroscopy and percutaneous nephrolithotomy.

Ureteroscopy requires general anesthetic. During the procedure, the surgeon removes or breaks up the stone, using tiny instruments inserted through the urethra. The surgeon may then place a stent inside the urethra to hold it open. This allows any small stone fragments to pass more easily.

During percutaneous nephrolithotomy, the surgeon removes very large stones measuring 10 mm or more. It involves removing the stone directly from the kidney through a small incision in the back. The procedure requires general anesthetic and a 1–2 day hospital stay.

Share on Pinterest A person may find pain medication helpful during their recovery.

The amount of time it takes to recover from a kidney stone depends on how it passes. If the stone passes naturally or with minimal drug intervention, the pain should subside very quickly.

If a person undergoes lithotripsy, which is an outpatient procedure, they should be able to go home the same day. Recovery time is usually minimal and partly depends on the type of anesthetic a practitioner uses.

If surgery is required, a person will typically be able to return to most normal activities within a day of the procedure. However, people who receive a stent should avoid high intensity activities until a health professional removes it. This usually occurs about a week after surgery.

During recovery, a person may take pain medications.

Kidney stones are often painful and can take several weeks to fully pass through the body’s system. A person should see a doctor if their stones become particularly painful or if they experience other worrying symptoms.

There are several potential treatment options for kidney stones. Drug therapies focus on both alleviating pain and discomfort and allowing the stone to pass more easily.

However, kidney stones that are too large to pass naturally may require surgical removal. In most cases, a person can return to their normal activities within a day or two of surgery.

Last medically reviewed on October 24, 2019

How we reviewed this article:

Medical News Today has strict sourcing guidelines and draws only from peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical journals and associations. We avoid using tertiary references. We link primary sources — including studies, scientific references, and statistics — within each article and also list them in the resources section at the bottom of our articles. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

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The 4 Stages of Passing a Kidney Stone

There are four stages of passing a kidney stone: The stone forms, leaves the kidney, reaches the bladder and causes pressure, and finally, exits the body.

Sometimes, a kidney stone will pass on its own, but this can be very painful. There are also times when you may need to seek medical care for help passing a kidney stone.

This article will cover the stages of passing a kidney stone, as well as what to know about the symptoms at each stage and when to seek medical attention.

man with kidney stone back pain

What Are Kidney Stones?

Your kidneys remove fluid and waste from your body. If you have too much salt, minerals, or chemicals in your body and not enough urine, the extra material can form crystals in your kidneys.

Other particles may attach to the crystals and form a hard object (a “stone”) that your body may try to pass.

Kidney stones are categorized by the main material they’re made from. The most common are calcium (oxalate), uric acid, and cystine stones. Struvite stones are made of magnesium ammonium phosphate and are often associated with a urinary tract infection (UTI). These stones can get large quickly.

How Common Are Kidney Stones?

About 1 out of every 10 people in the United States will have a kidney stone at some point in their life. They are more common in men than women. They also seem to be more common in white people than people of other races.

Stages of Passing a Kidney Stone

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

1) Kidney Stone Formation

Kidney stones can form if urine becomes concentrated because there is not enough water in the body. This allows crystals to form and attract other materials.

The creation of a kidney stone is not painful.

2) The Stone Leaves Kidney

The second stage of passing a kidney stone is when the stone has entered the tube that connects your kidneys to your bladder (ureter).

Pain can come in waves as the ureter spasms to try to pass the stone. The stone can get stuck at the junction of ureter and renal pelvis (ureteropelvic junction) or in the ureter itself, or near the junction of the ureter and the bladder (ureterovesical junction)

3) Bladder Pressure Builds

When the stone reaches the bladder, the pressure builds up in the organ. At this stage of passing a kidney stone, you will feel an urgent need to urinate frequently. Typically, the majority of intense pain is improved or resolved once the stone exits the ureter

4) The Kidney Stone Exits the Body

When you urinate, the kidney stone can be pushed out of the bladder and passed out of your body via the urethra. There is usually little or no pain during the last stage.

How Long Does It Take to Pass a Kidney Stone?

How long it takes to pass a kidney stone depends on how big it is. A stone less than 4 millimeters (mm) can pass in a week or two. Larger stones can take up to four to six weeks to pass.

What Does Passing a Kidney Stone Feel Like?

Most people associate the pain of passing a kidney stone with stage 4, or when it actually exits the body. But pain is most associated with stage 2 (when it leaves the kidney).

If the stone is small enough, it can go through all of the stages without you even realizing it. In other cases, the pain of passing a kidney stone can be severe. Some rank it as being worse than giving birth.

You may experience the following symptoms of larger kidney stones:

  • Severe back, side, or abdominal pain (often on one side) that may come on suddenly
  • Pain that comes in waves several times an hour
  • Urgent need to urinate
  • Pain when you urinate
  • Blood in your urine
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and chills (This may be caused by a urinary tract infection, which is dangerous if it occurs at the same time as passing a kidney stone and warrants immediate medical attention.)

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

What Do Kidney Stones Look Like When They Pass?

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

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

If you have extreme pain, a fever, or are vomiting while passing a kidney stone, seek medical care right away.

Kidney stones can lead to infections that need to be treated. If you’re not sure what to do, call your provider. They may have you go to urgent care or the emergency room.

What Helps Kidney Stones Pass Quickly?

If you have a kidney stone, you might be able to pass it on your own. There are a few things you can do to help the process along:

  • Stay hydrated. Drinking plenty of water or another hydrating fluid to help flush out a kidney stone is one of the most important things you can do.
  • Avoid irritating drinks. Try to reduce how much coffee, tea, alcohol, and soda you drink while you’re trying to pass a kidney stone. Focus on drinking water. If you don’t like drinking plain water, try adding a little lemon. It contains citrate, a natural chemical that might help dissolve a stone.
  • Think about your diet. Try not to snack on salty foods or add salt to your meals, as a high-sodium diet can be a risk factor for kidney stones. You also don’t want to eat too much protein, since it can also raise your risk. While kidney stones can form from calcium and oxalates, you don’t want to cut these nutrients out of your diet. You just want to be mindful of how much you consume.
  • Get moving. If you’re in a lot of pain you might not want to move, but walking around can actually help the stone pass faster.

To help ease discomfort as you wait for a stone to fully pass:

  • Use heat. A heating pad can help ease the pain of passing a kidney stone. Soaking in a warm bathtub might also be helpful.
  • Take OTC painkillers. An over-the-counter pain reliever like Motrin (ibuprofen) may help with pain and inflammation. However, if you have severe kidney stone pain OTC pain medications may not be enough.

You may have some discomfort after you’ve passed the stone. If these at-home remedies do not help, call your provider.

How Can I Force a Kidney Stone to Pass at Home?

You can’t reliably force a kidney stone to pass, but drinking plenty of water is the best way to encourage one to move through your system.

If You Cannot Pass a Kidney Stone at Home

If you end up calling your provider or going to the ER because you have a kidney stone that’s not passing, there are a few things they may try.

Sometimes, your provider might prescribe you a medication called Flomax (tamsulosin) to help pass a large kidney stone. However, research is not clear on whether the medication is always helpful for this purpose.

You might need to have a surgical procedure called shock wave lithotripsy that uses sound waves to break the stone up into smaller pieces, making it easier to pass. Surgeons can also use a special camera called ureteroscope (a narrow tube with a camera at the end) to get to the stone in the ureter or kidney and break it up using laser. You will be sedated during the procedure, so you won’t feel any pain or discomfort.

Surgeons can also use an endoscope (a narrow tube with a camera at the end) to get to the stone and break it up. You will be sedated during the procedure, so you won’t feel any pain or discomfort.

After the stone is taken out, it will go to a lab to see what it was made of. This can help you figure out if there are any steps you can take to reduce your chances of getting more kidney stones.

Can You Prevent Kidney Stones?

You can’t always prevent kidney stones. For example, if you already have kidney disease, you may not be able to avoid them.

You might also need to be on certain medications that can lead to the formation of kidney stones, including diuretics (which increase calcium excretion in the urine) and antacids (which can have stone-forming minerals in them).

But whether these apply to you or not, it’s always worth taking steps to try to prevent kidney stones from occurring, including:

  • Stay hydrated. Making sure you don’t get dehydrated is important if you’re prone to getting kidney stones.
  • Watch your diet. Be aware of the foods you eat often and try to limit those high in protein, salt, and processed sugar. Eating citrus fruits is beneficial for preventing kidney stones.

Can Cranberry Juice Help Prevent Kidney Stones?

Research suggests that whether cranberry juice and cranberry extract supplements could help prevent kidney stones depends on the type of kidney stones you get. For example, if you get oxalate stones, drinking cranberry juice could actually make kidney stones more likely to form since it’s high in oxalates. However, other studies have shown the opposite.


There are four stages of passing a kidney stone: formation, moving into the ureter, reaching the bladder, and exiting the body in urine.

Kidney stones can be very painful, but once the stone passes you should feel much better. While you might be able to pass a kidney stone on your own at home, if you’re in extreme pain and have a fever, you should seek medical care.

If you can’t pass a kidney stone on your own, you might need to have it broken up or taken out surgically.

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.

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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,, and Craftsmanship Quarterly. She has authored a book about documentary filmmaking, a screenplay about a lost civil rights hero, and ghostwritten several memoirs.