Should My Kidney Stone Be Removed?
Kidney stones fall into two basic categories — those that are currently causing symptoms and those that have the potential to cause symptoms. Those causing symptoms such as infection or pain require treatment.
Although there's usually no need to treat a stone that's not causing symptoms, we understand that many people do not want the potential for disruption in their lives. Approximately 50% of kidney stones that currently aren't causing problems will cause symptoms sometime in the next five years.
"Watchful waiting" means that you currently don't need treatment to remove kidney stones, but your doctor continues to watch the stones to see if they are growing or changing. At the HealthEast Kidney Stone Institute, periodic x-rays or CT scans determine if stones are increasing in size and number. Patients can have stones removed if their condition or priorities change.
Reasons to leave a kidney stone untreated
- Your stone isn't currently causing symptoms
- Your stone is small. Stones less than 5 mm in size are often capable of passing on their own if they fall into the ureter.
- You prefer to avoid treatment
Reasons to treat a kidney stone
- Stone is causing pain or other symptoms
- Chronic or recurrent urinary tract infections
Kidney stones may harbor infections that the body is unable to clear, even with antibiotics. At that point, the only way to clear these infections is by removing the stone.
- Larger stones
Stones greater than 5 mm are unlikely to pass on their own and usually require treatment if they fall into the ureter. This creates an unwanted emergency.
- Staghorn stones
Staghorn stones are large and usually infection related. Because they can grow to huge sizes and fill the kidney, they can pose kidney and health risks if left untreated. The American Urological Association recommends that these stones be treated whenever they are discovered.
- Occupational requirements
For example, FAA regulations require that airline pilots be grounded until the stone is cleared. Even when not required by their occupations, many people do not have schedules that allow unanticipated time away from their work.
- Women of childbearing age
During pregnancy an obstructing stone is often more difficult to diagnose and treat and can pose risks to the mother and unborn child. We recommend that any woman planning pregnancy who has known stones undergo elective stone clearance prior to conception.
- Travel to medically underserved areas
People who frequently travel to areas where medical care is unavailable or unreliable should consider treatment to avoid an incident in less than optimal conditions.
- Patient preference
Many patients simply want their stones removed. We are particularly sensitive to those patients who have taken steps to reduce their risk of stone recurrence but have one or more stones remaining in their kidneys. Many patients opt to schedule treatment when it's convenient for them and select therapies that are most likely to clear the stone in a single treatment.