woman drinking a glass of water

Preventing Kidney Stones

Private: Gary C. Curhan, MD, SCD
Contributor Gary C. Curhan, MD, SCD

Kidney stones are very common and can cause significant pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there are things you can do to lower your risk of developing stones. If you do develop a kidney stone, there also are effective treatment options.

How common are kidney stones?

Twenty percent of men and 10 percent of women will form at least one stone during their lifetime. White men between the ages of about 40 to 60 are more likely to develop kidney stones, but men of other ages and ethnicities can form stones as well. The likelihood of stone formation is slightly less in women, with younger women at increased risk.

What causes stones?

Kidney stones form when there is an excess of certain substances in the urine relative to the amount of water. These substances crystallize when they can no longer stay dissolved in the urine, resulting in a kidney stone.

Patients with kidney stones usually don’t experience symptoms until the stone breaks off and drops into the ureter. The ureter is the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. Once this happens, people may experience significant pain.

There are a number of dietary risk factors for the development of kidney stones, including lower calcium intake and lower consumption of fruits, vegetables and potassium-rich foods.

Also, when people have lower fluid intake, their urine becomes more concentrated. This increases the likelihood that certain substances in the urine will crystallize and form kidney stones. However, the type of beverages you drink are important. For example, sugar-sweetened beverages, like sodas, increase the risk of stones.

Family history, certain lifestyle conditions, and some medical conditions also may play a role in the development of kidney stones. Nephrologists ( kidney specialists) can help patients prevent stones through changes in the foods you eat, other modifications and medication.

How are kidney stones treated?

Treatment for kidney stones depends on their size and location. Small stones are usually allowed to pass on their own. For larger kidney stones (about one centimeter or larger), patients should speak with a urologist to decide whether treatment of the stone, before it breaks off, should be considered.

Urologists break up or remove kidney stones with several techniques. One of the most common techniques is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL), offered at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. ESWL breaks up stones noninvasively and can allow them to pass through the ureter. If necessary, kidney stones also can be removed through minimally invasive surgery.

Kidney stones and research at the Brigham with Gary Curhan, MD, SCD, a Nephrologist within the Division of Renal Medicine.

Private: Gary C. Curhan, MD, SCD
Gary C. Curhan, MD, SCD

Gary C. Curhan, MD, SCD, is a nephrologist in the Division of Renal Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Before you go,

No matter where you are on your healthy journey, our experts can help you achieve your goals. From questions about routine wellness checkups and common health conditions to family health history and genetic testing, we’re here for you. Read more articles about general health.