Self-Care Tips for Kidney Stones: Treatment and Prevention

Medically Reviewed By Jenneh Rishe, RN
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Kidney stones are hard deposits of calcium, uric acid, or other crystals that form in the kidneys. They start in the kidney and can travel to the bladder and be released when you pass urine. Kidney stones may cause no symptoms or can be extremely painful. Home remedies can help prevent and treat kidney stones.

Here is a look at the different types of kidney stones, and steps you can take to help prevent or pass them.

What are home remedies for kidney stones?

Man drinking water while indoors
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There are things you do at home to help prevent and treat kidney stones. These include drinking plenty of water and focusing on your diet.

Drinking plenty of water can help prevent as well as flush out a kidney stone. According to the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, you can drink up to 64 ounces of water a day to help pass a stone, unless you have kidney failure. Talk to your doctor about how much water is advisable for you to drink if you have kidney disease.

There is some evidence that drinking apple cider vinegar, dandelion root juice, or banana stem juice may potentially help dissolve or prevent kidney stones.

In many parts of the world, herbs are used in traditional medicine to treat kidney stones, but most have not been scientifically studied.

What is a kidney stone?

A kidney stone is a mass of crystals that forms in the kidney. They may pass through your urinary tract without symptoms, but if they get stuck, they can be very painful. Kidney stones tend to recur in many people.

There are several types of kidney stones categorized by the substance that form them:

  • Calcium oxalate: This is the most common type of kidney stone. It develops when you have high levels of oxalate, a substance found in many plants and animals that keeps your body from absorbing calcium.
  • Calcium phosphate: This less common type of large, calcium-based kidney stone forms when urine is too alkaline. This type may damage the kidneys.
  • Uric acid: This common type develops from high purine levels, due to several factors including diet and alcohol intake.
  • Cystine: This rare type represents 1%–2% of kidney stones. It develops when a substance called cystine leaks into the urine.
  • Struvite: This type contains magnesium ammonium phosphate and is often connected to UTIs (urinary tract infections). This type may grow rapidly. If untreated, struvite stones can lead to kidney damage and infection.

How can diet help prevent kidney stones?

You may be able to prevent kidney stones by eating certain foods and avoiding others. The foods you should avoid depend on the type of kidney stones you have.

The DASH diet

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a good place to start. The DASH diet stresses eating:

  • vegetables and whole grains
  • fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • fish, poultry, and beans
  • vegetable oils rather than tropical oils like coconut oil

Fruit choices depend on whether your urine is acidic or alkaline. Talk with your doctor for guidance on which fruits are appropriate for you. It is also important to avoid a high salt intake and limit foods high in saturated fat and sugar.

Drink extra fluids

A key to avoiding kidney stones is drinking plenty of clear fluid. This dilutes urine so that it is less likely to form a stone. One guidance is to drink enough so that your urine is light yellow. However, if you have kidney disease, talk to your doctor about how much water is advisable.

If you live in a warm climate or go through a heat wave, pay attention to your water intake. Experts have documented spikes in kidney stones after heat waves. While water is preferred, you can also drink ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, or fruit juice. Limit caffeinated and sugary drinks.

Foods to avoid with calcium oxalate stones

Up to 94% of kidney stones are calcium-based. Three quarters of those are calcium oxalate. Despite their name, calcium stones do not develop due to excess calcium; in fact, calcium can block substances that cause stones.

Do not restrict your calcium intake, and follow your doctor’s recommendation about how much calcium should be in your diet.

Avoid foods that are particularly high in oxalate, including:

  • nuts
  • peanuts (which are legumes)
  • rhubarb
  • spinach
  • wheat bran

Foods to avoid with calcium phosphate stones

Sodium (salt) contributes to many types of kidney stones, and phosphate is a salt. Processed foods often contain phosphate as a preservative or additive, so check the ingredient label. Avoid excess salt in your diet and talk to your doctor about your daily intake.

Avoid foods that can contribute to calcium phosphate stones, including:

  • organ meats like liver, sweetbreads, and tongue
  • dairy products, especially full fat
  • eggs
  • seafood
  • cranberry and nectarine juice

Foods to avoid with uric acid stones

Uric acid is a waste product in the blood that comes from substances called purines, so avoid high purine foods including:

  • red meat
  • organ meats
  • alcoholic beverages
  • sardines, anchovies, and shellfish

Foods to avoid with cystine stones

While calcium stones are associated with alkaline urine, cystine stones are linked to acidic urine. To help avoid developing cystine stones, focus on vegetables and low-acid fruits like bananas and berries. Avoid:

  • meat
  • citrus fruits like lemons and oranges
  • salt

Foods to prevent with struvite stones

Struvite stones make up about 15% of all kidney stones and are more common in women than men. They are usually linked to urinary tract infections.

Acidic fluids like fruit juices or coffee may help prevent them. Talk to your doctor about your diet or supplements if you have had a struvite stone.

What medications can treat kidney stones?

If necessary, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication to help you pass your kidney stone. They include:

  • Alpha blockers: These relax and reduce spasms in part of the urinary tract so the stone can pass without pain.
  • Allopurinol or certain salts: These may help dissolve uric acid stones.

Other medications can help kidney stones from recurring. These include:

  • Potassium citrate makes urine more alkaline, used for uric acid and cystine stones.
  • Thiazide diuretics help control calcium levels to prevent calcium-based stones.
  • Allopurinol reduces uric acid to help prevent uric acid stones.
  • Penicillamine helps prevent cystine stones.
  • Acetohydroxamic acid (AHA) can stop struvite stones from growing by preventing bacteria from making ammonia.

When should you contact a doctor for kidney stones?

If you feel severe, sharp pain below your ribs in your side and back, you may have a kidney stone. Your doctor can provide or recommend pain medication, but you should also get in touch with them if:

  • the stone has not passed within a month
  • pain is extremely severe
  • you have a fever
  • there is blood in the urine

Most kidney stones pass uneventfully, but they can cause infection, dehydration, or kidney damage.

How do doctors remove kidney stones?

If a kidney stone is large or lodged in a way that it cannot pass, doctors can break them up using ultrasound shock waves or remove them in a simple surgical procedure.

Summary

Home remedies for kidney stones focus on drinking plenty of water, modifying your diet, and avoiding certain foods depending on the type of kidney stone. Talk with your doctor about any dietary changes and how much fluid you should drink.

Kidney stone treatment may also include medications your doctor prescribes to treat or prevent kidney stones. Contact your doctor if you are still in pain after a month, have a fever, or see blood in your urine.

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Medical Reviewer: Jenneh Rishe, RN
Last Review Date: 2022 Oct 27
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