The kidney acts as a filter for blood, removing waste products from the body and kidney imagesmaking urine. It also helps regulate electrolyte levels that are important for body function. Urine drains from the kidney through a narrow tube called the ureter into the bladder. When the bladder fills and there is an urge to urinate, the bladder empties to the outside through the urethra, a much wider tube than the ureter.

In some people, chemicals crystallize in the urine and form the beginning, or nidus, of a kidney stone. These stones are very tiny when they form, smaller than a grain of sand, but gradually can grow over time to an inch or larger. Urolithiasis is the term that refers to the presence of stones in the urinary tract, while nephrolithiasis (nephro = kidney + lithiasis = stone) refers to kidney stones and ureterolithiasis refers to stones lodged in the ureter. The size of the stone doesn’t matter as much as where it is located and whether it obstructs or prevents urine from draining.


  • No symptoms, if the stone is small enough.
  • Sudden, severe pain that gets worse in waves. Stones may cause intense pain in the back, side, abdomen, groin, or genitals. People who have had a kidney stone often describe the pain as “the worst pain I’ve ever had.”
  • Feeling sick to the stomach (nausea) and vomiting.
  • Blood in the urine (hematuria), which can occur either with stones that stay in the kidney or with those that travel through the ureters.
  • Frequent and painful urination, which may occur when the stone is in the ureter or after the stone has left the bladder and is in the urethra. Painful urination may occur when a urinary tract infection is also present.

Conditions with similar symptoms include appendicitis, hernias, ectopic pregnancy, and prostatitis.


  • A kidney stone is a hard, crystalline mineral formed within the kidney or urinary tract.
  • Nephrolithiasisis the medical term for kidney stones.
  • One in every 20 people develops kidney stones at some point in their life.
  • Kidney stones form when there is a decrease in urine volume and/or an excess of stone-forming substances in the urine.
  • Dehydration is a major risk factor for kidney stone formation.
  • Symptoms of a kidney stone include flankpain(the pain can be quite severe) and blood in the urine (hematuria).
  • People with certain medical conditions, such as gout, and those who take certain medications or supplements are at risk for kidney stones.
  • Diet and hereditary factors are also related to stone formation.
  • Diagnosis of kidney stones is best accomplished using an ultrasound, IVP, or a CT scan.
  • Most kidney stones will pass through the ureter to the bladder on their own with time.
  • Treatment includes pain-control medications and, in some cases, medications to facilitate the passage of urine.
  • If needed, litho or surgical techniques may be used for stones which do not pass through the ureter to the bladder on their own.

The most important step you can take to lower the risk of having any type of kidney stone again is to drink plenty of fluids, especially water.

Drink fluids throughout the day, and aim for at least 2 ½ – 3 L (10-12 cups) each day. Drink extra fluids if you are breastfeeding, sweat heavily, or have diarrhea or vomiting.

  • Fluids include water and other beverages such as milk, juice, soups, coffee and tea.
    • Limit caffeine to 300 mg per day (1 250 mL or 8 oz cup of coffee has 60-150 mg of caffeine and 1 cup of tea has 40-80 mg of caffeine)
    • Limit black tea if you have had calcium oxalate stones in the past, as it is high in oxalate.
  • To help drink enough fluids:
    • Be sure to drink whenever you are thirsty.
    • Carry a water bottle with you throughout the day.
    • Include at least one beverage with each meal.

If you have had cystine kidney stones you may need to drink 4 L (16 cups) or more fluid each day. Check with your doctor to see if drinking this amount of fluid is safe for you. Keeping up this high fluid intake may be difficult.

These additional steps may lower the risk of kidney stones:

Aim for a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of kidney stones. If you are overweight, lose weight slowly by following a balanced eating plan. High protein weight loss diets are not recommended.

Have a maximum of 2-3 servings from the Meats and Alternatives group as recommended in “Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide” High amounts of animal protein may increase the risk for kidney stones.

  • One serving of cooked meat, fish, or poultry is 75 g or 2 ½ oz. Limit your intake to a maximum of 150-225 g (5-7.5 oz) per day).
  • Think of meat, fish and poultry as a garnish to your meal rather than the centrepiece.
  • At some meals, substitute meat alternatives, such as nuts, lentils, dried peas and beans for meat, fish or poultry.

Limit the amount of sodium you eat.

  • Buy fresh or frozen unprocessed meats, poultry, or fish instead of breaded, seasoned, or cured foods.
  • Replace added salt used at the table or in cooking with low sodium herbs, spices, seasonings and other flavourings.
  • Limit fast foods and “convenience” foods (such as seasoned pasta or rice mixes), and canned foods (such as stews and vegetables).
  • For more ideas see Healthy Eating Guidelines For Lower Sodium (Salt) Eating Factsheet

Limit the oxalates in your diet if you have had calcium oxalate kidney stones.

  • Limit the foods that contain the highest levels of oxalates. These are spinach, rhubarb, beets (root and leaves), star fruit, peanuts, almonds, black tea, soybeans, tofu, and meat substitutes made with soy. Chocolate, wheat bran based-foods, cashews, hazelnuts and beans also have oxalates, but not as much. When eating these foods have small portions, and don’t eat them too often.
  • Get the recommended amount of calciumeach day from foods and drinks. The recommended daily amount of calcium for adults aged 19-50 years is 1000 mg; females aged 51-70 years is 1200 mg; males aged 51-70 years is 1000 mg; and adults >70 years is 1200 mg.
  • If you eat high oxalate foods, it’s a good idea to eat a food or drink a beverage high in calcium at the same time. See the “Additional Resources” section for a list of foods high in calcium.
  • You do not need to completely avoid foods containing oxalates. In fact, it is impossible to completely remove oxalates from your diet while still eating a balanced diet with all the nutrients you need for good health.

Get your vitamin C from foods if you have had calcium oxalate kidney stones. If you wish, you may take a multivitamin and mineral supplement, but you should not take high amounts of vitamin C from supplements (more than 1000 mg per day). Good food sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits, mango, papaya, melons, berries, peppers and many dark leafy vegetables, potatoes and tomatoes.

We’re not sure how alcohol affects your risk of getting kidney stones. If you drink alcohol discuss this with your doctor. If your doctor says it is okay for you to drink alcohol, be sure to do so in moderation, which means no more than 2 drinks on any given occasion, and no more than 14 drinks a week for men, and no more than 9 drinks a week for women.

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