Kidney stones are a painful disorder of the urinary tract. Urolithiasis is
the medical term used to describe stones occuring in the urinary tract. These
stones occur four times more often in men than in women, with 240,000 to 720,000
Americans affected yearly. The pain of having a stone has been compared to that
of childbirth. The stones can be made of calcium, uric acid, oxalate, struvite,
Signs and Symptoms
You may have no symptoms if the stone is noted on an X ray for an unrelated
condition. Or you may have some or all of the following.
Sudden onset of excruciating pain in the buttocks area
Nausea and vomiting
You are constantly moving to relieve the pain
Pain in the genital area as the stone moves
Fever and chills
What Causes It?
Kidney stones occur because the small bowel absorbs too much calcium, your
diet is too high in calcium or another mineral, you have intestinal problems, a
urinary tract infection, or an inherited disorder. You may not be drinking
enough fluids (especially in the summer) or exercising
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you are in extreme pain, your health care provider may give you a strong
pain reliever. Then your health care provider will need a urine sample to check
for infection and to see if your urine is acid or alkaline, which indicates the
type of stone. You may need to collect your urine for 24 hours if this is not
your first stone. Your provider will also take a blood sample.
With time, the stone generally passes out of the body by itself. If it
doesn't or if you have severe pain, bleeding, fever, nausea, or can't urinate,
your provider can shatter the stone with shock waves (an outpatient procedure),
and the smaller pieces can pass with much less pain. Only rarely is surgery
Usually taking pain relievers and drinking at least six to eight glasses of
water a day, plus one at bedtime and another during the night, enables the stone
to pass more easily. You may need to urinate through a strainer to collect the
stone and give it to your health care provider for analysis.
You may need pain medication while the stone is moving through your system.
After it passes, you may need other drugs so that you don't form stones again.
Drugs may include
Narcotics to control severe pain
Allopurinol, 100 to 300 mg daily to control hyperuricemia
Hydrochlorothiazide, 25 to 50 mg daily for calcium type I
Cellulose sodium phosphate 10 g daily for calcium type I stones; to
decrease bowel absorption
Orthophosphates for calcium type III stones; to inhibit vitamin B
Surgical and Other Procedures
Surgery is recommended for patients with severe pain that does not respond to
medications, for those with serious bleeding, and persistent fever, nausea, or
significant urinary obstruction. If no medical treatment is provided after
surgery, stones recur in 50% of patients within five years.
Urethroscopy—a diagnostic proceedure for
identifying stones in lower third of ureter
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy
(ESWI)—an outpatient proceedure in which shock waves
are used to shatter stones under 2 cm
Percutaneous nephrolithotripsy—a surgical
proceedure for removing large or dense kidney stones; instruments are inserted
into the kidney to break up stones
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Symptomatic urolithiasis requires medical attention. Alternative therapies
aid in reducing the risk of recurrent episodes and increasing the overall
vitality of the urogenital system. Start with nutritional guidelines for
prevention of recurrence. Herbs and homeopathic remedies can be used for acute
pain relief and long-term toning of the urinary tract.
Reduce your intake of sugar, refined foods, animal products (meats
and dairy), caffeine, alcohol, soda, and salt.
Drink more water and eat more fiber, vegetables, whole grains, and
Cut down on oxalate-containing foods such as spinach, rhubarb, beets,
nuts, chocolate, black tea, wheat bran, strawberries, and beans.
Include foods rich in magnesium and low in calcium, such as barley,
bran, corn, rye, oats, soy, brown rice, avocado, banana, and potato.
Magnesium citrate (200 to 400 mg per day) may increase the solubility
of calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate.
Pyridoxine (B6, 10 to 100 mg per day) is essential for the metabolism
of oxalic acid, a component of some stones.
Folic acid (5 mg per day) helps break down uric acid
Herbs are generally a safe way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As
with any therapy, it is important to work with your health care provider on
getting your problem diagnosed before you start any treatment. Herbs may be used
as dried extracts (capsules, powders, teas), glycerites (glycerine extracts), or
tinctures (alcohol extracts). Unless otherwise indicated, teas should be made
with 1 tsp. herb per cup of hot water. Steep covered 5 to 10 minutes for leaf or
flowers, and 10 to 20 minutes for roots. Drink 2 to 4 cups per day. Tinctures
may be used singly or in combination as noted.
For acute pain relief, combine tinctures of wild yam (Dioscorea
villosa), cramp bark (Viburnum opulus), kava (Piper methysticum),
and Jamaica dogwood (Piscidia piscipula). Take 15 drops every 15
minutes for up to 8 doses.
Drink an infusion of equal parts of gravel root (Eupatorium
purpureum), corn silk (Zea mays), pipissewa (Chimaphila
umbellata), and kava. Use 1 tsp. of herb mixture per 1 cup water.
Drink 3 to 4 cups per day.
Some of the most common remedies used for urolithiasis are listed below.
Usually, the dose is 3 to 5 pellets of a 12X to 30C remedy every one to four
hours until your symptoms get better.
Berberis for sharp sticking pains that radiate to your
Colocynthis for restlessness and pain that feels better when
you bend forward
Ocimum for nausea and vomiting from the
Castor oil pack. Used externally, castor oil is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Apply oil directly to skin, cover with a clean soft cloth (for example, flannel)
and plastic wrap. Place a heat source (hot water bottle or heating pad) over the
pack and let sit for 30 to 60 minutes. For best results, use for three
Fifty percent of patients pass the stone in 48 hours. If there are
complications, your health care provider may refer you to a urologist or admit
you to the hospital. After you pass the stone, keep drinking fluids and change
your diet to reduce the chance of forming more stones in the
Shock-wave therapy is not appropriate for women of childbearing age. If you
think you might be pregnant, tell your health care provider. He or she will also
want to rule out ectopic pregnancy or a ruptured ovarian
Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor: Instant Diagnosis and Treatment.
St Louis, Mo: Mosby-Year Book; 1999.
Grases F, et al. Urolithiasis and phytotherapy. Int Urol Nephrol.
Larson DE, ed. Mayo Clinic Family Health Book. 2nd ed. New York, NY:
William Morrow and Company; 1996.
Scalzo R. Naturopathic Handbook of Herbal Formulas. Durango, Colo: 2nd
ed. Kivaki Press; 1994.
Tierney LM Jr, McPhee SJ, Papadakis MA, eds. Current Medical Diagnosis and
Treatment 1994. Norwalk, Conn: Appleton & Lange;
Review Date: August 1999
Reviewed By: Participants in the review process include: Anne McClenon, ND, Compass Family
Health Center, Plymouth, MA; David Perlmutter, MD, Perlmutter Health Center,
Commons Medical and Surgical Centre, Naples, FL; Eric Wellons, MD, Department of
Surgery, Union Memorial Hospital, Baltimore, MD; Leonard Wisneski, MD, FACP,
George Washington University, Rockville,
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guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information
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regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications
before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed