Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that stick together. They can cause severe pain painful when passing through the urinary tract. Some stones may be as small as a grain of salt, while others can be much larger. Some, called staghorn stones, fill the entire kidney.

Overview and Symptoms

Symptoms of passing a kidney stone are often sudden and excruciatingly painful. The most common symptoms are:

  • severe flank and lower back pain
  • a constant stomach ache
  • blood in the urine
  • nausea or vomiting

Stones that are small (5mm or less) can usually pass through the urinary system by themselves. However, larger stones may require an outpatient procedure or inpatient surgery.

There are several risk factors for kidney stones, including dehydration, a high concentration of calcium, infection, obstruction of urine, or various kidney disorders.

A number of tests are available to help diagnose whether kidney stones are the reason behind your symptoms.  These include:

  • blood tests to look for unusually high levels of calcium or uric acid in your blood
  • urine tests to look for too many stone-forming minerals or too few stone-preventing substances
  • imaging tests, such as an abdominal X-ray or computerized tomography (CT) scan, to look for actual kidney stones in your urinary tract.


At BIDMC, we provide all aspects of treatment and management using the latest, minimally invasive techniques, including:

  • ureteroscopy: an outpatient procedure using a miniature scope to locate and remove small kidney and/or ureteral stones
  • shockwave lithotripsy: an outpatient procedure using sound waves to break up small to medium kidney stones.
  • percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL): an inpatient procedure to break up and remove large and/or complex kidney stones.
  • laparoscopic and robotic pyelolithotomy/ureterolithotomy: an inpatient, intra-abdominal procedure for very complex and unusual kidney stones.

Learn More

The Division of Nephrology at BIDMC is dedicated to providing leading-edge diagnoses and treatment in overall kidney care.

Nephrology (Kidney)