Kidney stones typically remain in the ureter, or the tube responsible for carrying urine from the kidneys to the bladder,1 for a couple of days or weeks. It’s during this timeframe that most physicians recommend patients try to pass kidney stones at home.2
Fortunately, if you drink enough water, consume kidney-friendly foods or apply natural home remedies, small kidney stones can go downward3 and move on their own within 48 hours, although this could cause some pain for the patient.
Kidney stones go through the urinary tract in this order: first through the kidneys, then to the ureter and bladder and finally, via the urine where they are eliminated from the body.4,5
However, some stones might persist in the ureter until they are removed during a surgery. Larger kidney stones have a higher risk of being trapped in the ureter and may not be able to pass the urinary tract (unlike small pieces that move easily), and potentially obstruct proper urine flow.6
According to MedicineNet, there is an 80 percent chance for a 4-millimeter kidney stone to easily move, in comparison to a 5-millimeter stone, which only has a 20 percent probability. Unfortunately, stones that are larger than 9 or 10 millimeters are rarely removed without the need for specific treatment.
Apart from stone size, there are other factors that could influence the speed of kidney stone movement through the urinary tract, namely:7
• Prior stone passage
• Prostate enlargement
Is Surgery Necessary to Remove Kidney Stones?
Although some patients can move kidney stones easily at home, there are stones that must be removed through surgery to get rid of them and also alleviate pain. Common signs that indicate kidney stones must be surgically removed include:8
✓ Failure of kidney stones to pass after a reasonable amount of time
✓ Kidney stones already cause constant pain
✓ Kidney stones are too large to pass on their own or are caught in a difficult area
✓ Kidney stones block the flow of urine
✓ Kidney stones prompt an ongoing urinary tract infection (UTI)
✓ Kidney stones damages tissue or triggers constant bleeding
✓ If follow-up X-rays show that the kidney stones have grown larger
If any of these indicators appear, consult a physician immediately to know how to treat them and/or know what type of surgery you might have to undergo. Surgical procedures that are usually done on people with kidney stones are:9
• Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) or shockwave lithotripsy10
• Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)
• Open surgery (although this is rare)