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Identifying Kidney Stones

There are 4 general types of kidney stones. Your kidney stone’s size and shape determine whether it is likely to pass by itself. Knowing a stone’s composition helps your doctor find its cause. Then he or she can suggest the best treatment. X-rays or scans can help show the stone's size and shape. Your doctor may also give you a "strainer." You can use this to catch the stone while passing urine, and the doctor can then test the stone. Other urine and blood tests may be done to help identify the stone as well as various causes for different types of stones. 

Illustration showing various sizes of kidney stones.


A stone may be as small as a grain of sand. Or it may be as large as a golf ball. Small stones may pass out of the body when you urinate.

Illustration showing various shapes of kidney stones.


Small smooth, round stones may pass easily. Jagged-edged stones often lodge inside the kidney or ureter. Staghorn stones can fill the entire renal pelvis and calyces.

Illustration showing composition of kidney stones.


Most stones are calcium oxalate, a hard compound. Stones made of cystine or uric acid, or caused by infection (struvite stones), are less dense. Stones often contain more than one chemical.

Treating your stones

You and your doctor will work together to form a treatment plan. Your doctor may suggest that you let your stone pass naturally. Or you may manage it with medications. SWL (shock wave lithotripsy), ureteroscopy (using a camera inside the body to remove the stone), or other procedures may also help. And you will be told how you can help prevent kidney stones in the future.


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