Penn Medicine’s Kidney Stone (Nephrolithiasis) Clinic was established for the comprehensive diagnosis and treatment of all types of kidney stone disease, including calcium and mineral disorders. We offer a multidisciplinary approach to care combining the expertise of a diverse group of health care professionals, including urologists, nephrologists, and radiologists, with metabolic and dietary specialties to assess risks that may be responsible for stone formation. Learn more about kidney stone treatment options.

What are Kidney Stones?

A kidney stone is a hard crystal that forms in the kidney. Kidney stones may be comprised of various substances with the most common containing calcium. Kidney stones vary in size and once formed, may stay in the kidney or break loose and travel down the urinary tract. The stone may move out of the body in the urine unnoticed or it may cause a backup of urine in the kidney, ureter, bladder, or urethra, resulting in extreme pain.

What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Kidney Stones?

There are many risk factors that contribute to the formation of kidney stones. While men are more likely than women to develop kidney stones, the prevalence and incidence in both has been steadily rising. Causes and risk factors include:

  • Dehydration
  • Diets high in protein and sodium
  • Obesity
  • Certain medications:
    • Diuretics
    • Antacids
    • Calcium supplements
    • Vitamin D
  • Underlying medical conditions such as:
    • Gastric bypass surgery
    • Inflammatory bowel disease
    • Diabetes and metabolic syndrome
    • Hypertension
    • High cholesterol
    • Thyroid disease
    • Sarcoidosis
    • Autoimmune diseases
    • Recurrent urinary tract infections
    • Gout

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Kidney Stones?

A kidney stone may not cause symptoms until the stone moves within the kidney or passes into the ureter. Pain caused by a kidney stone may come in waves, increasing and decreasing in severity, and change locations as the stone moves through the urinary tract. Symptoms include:

  • Pain in the flank that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Painful and frequent urination
  • A persistent urge to urinate
  • Difficulty passing urine
  • Blood in the urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Fever

How are Kidney Stones Diagnosed?

If a kidney stone is suspected, the following tests and procedures may be performed in addition to obtaining a complete medical history and performing a physical examination:

  • Blood tests. A blood test may reveal too much calcium or uric acid in the blood that may contribute to the formation of kidney stones.
  • Urine tests. A urine test, such as the 24-hour urine collection, may show too many stone-forming minerals or too few stone-preventing substances.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests may show kidney stones in the urinary tract. Abdominal x-rays may miss small stones prompting the need for a high-speed computerized tomography (CT) to reveal even tiny stones.
  • Analysis of passed stones. Lab analysis can reveal the makeup of stones passed in the urine. This information can help determine the cause of the kidney stones and serve as a foundation to form a preventative plan.

What Happens After I’m Diagnosed with a Kidney Stone?

At Penn, we offer a level of experience rarely available elsewhere. Our experienced physicians implement best practices for the treatment of all stone diseases. 
After you are diagnosed with a kidney stone, we distinguish whether or not your needs are urological or nephrological. Urologists remove stones, and nephrologists are mainly involved with preventing kidney stone growth.

Preventative services for kidney stone growth include careful management of lifestyle choices and medications including:

  • Dietary changes
    • Drink plenty of water/high fluid intake
    • Low sodium
    • Low protein
    • Low purine
    • Low oxalate
  • Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension Diet (DASH diet) — a diet consisting of nutrient-rich foods, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low sodium and low saturated fat.
  • Medication (if dietary changes are not sufficient)
    • Diuretics
    • Potassium citrate
    • Allopurinol
  • Lifestyle changes
    • Increase exercise or physical activity
    • Reduce stress

How Does Penn Medicine Treat Kidney Stones?

The Kidney Stone Clinic provides the latest technology and treatment options delivered by physicians who are leaders in their field. Our innovative approach to care provides individualized treatment plans that are customized to meet your unique needs.

We use the latest in advanced medical imaging to help identify stones in the urinary system, as well as employ minimally invasive technology to ensure effective surgical kidney stone removal with shortened recovery times. Laboratory studies also help us develop a personalized plan for kidney stone prevention.

Learn more about kidney stone treatment options at Penn Medicine.

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Treatment Team

Penn Kidney physicians provide expert evaluation, diagnosis and treatment for all types of kidney stone diseases.

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