Kidney stones are hard, pebble-like pieces of material that can form in one or both of the kidneys. Kidney stones can vary in size and material.
Calcium stones are the most common type of kidney stone that can occur when extra calcium that isn’t used by your bones and muscles combines with other waste products in the kidneys to form a stone.
However, there are other types of kidney stones, including uric acid stones (which can occur as a result of eating a lot of fish or meat), struvite stones (which can develop as a result of a urinary tract infection), or cystine stones (which occur as a result of a disorder that is genetic).
Kidney stones can cause painful and uncomfortable symptoms, including sharp pains in your back, side, lower abdomen, or groin, bloody, cloudy, pink, red or brown urine, urine with a foul odor, increased urinary frequency, pain while urinating, and difficulty urinating.
Your provider may use a urine test, blood test, and imaging tests to help find and diagnose kidney stones.
Once diagnosed, your provider will work with you to determine the best treatment option available, which will depend on the size, location, and type of kidney stone you have.
Smaller kidney stones may need little-to-no treatment in order to pass on their own, while larger kidney stones that cause pain or block your urine may require more urgent and invasive procedures.
Depending on the type of stone you have, there may be some at-home strategies that can help to support your treatment. Additional at-home strategies will also help to prevent future stones from forming.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking lots of fluids is an important treatment and prevention strategy for all types of kidney stones.
When you have kidney stones, drinking water and other non-sugary and non-caffeinated drinks is best.
If you have a stone small enough to pass on its own, drinking plenty of water will help to flush it out.
Drinking plenty of water is also one of the best ways to prevent future kidney stones from forming, as it helps to keep your urine diluted and flushes away minerals that can form into stones.
If you’re otherwise healthy, aim to drink somewhere between 48-64 ounces of water every day at least, but keep in mind that these recommendations may vary depending on your age, activity level, and other personal health factors.
However, if you’ve had cystine stones in the past, you may need to drink more than 64 ounces of water every day. You should aim for frequent, clear or straw-colored urine.
Increase Your Intake of Citric Fruits
Several studies suggest that the high citric acid quantity in citrus fruits, including lemons, oranges, and grapefruits, may help to prevent the formation of kidney stones.
However, these findings are mixed.
Three cohort studies suggest that orange juice may be most protective against kidney stone formation, though the high carbohydrate content of orange juice may pose other risks.
Another study also found orange juice to be more protective against the formation of kidney stones than lemon or grapefruit juice, while grapefruit juice was found to increase the risk of kidney stone formation.
With limited and mixed evidence, it’s a good idea to reach out to your provider to discuss whether increasing your citrus fruit intake can help to prevent kidney stones based on your health and kidney stone history.
Drink Raw Apple Cider Vinegar
Raw apple cider vinegar is hailed as an alternative treatment option for many conditions, in part because of its natural antibacterial and antifungal properties.
Though more research is underway to determine whether apple cider vinegar can help prevent the formation of kidney stones, there isn’t sufficient existing evidence to show that drinking apple cider vinegar will help or treat or prevent kidney stones.
In fact, when consumed in excess, drinking apple cider vinegar can be dangerous to your health.
The results of National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys suggest that caffeine intake (particularly from coffee) may be associated with a higher risk of recurrent kidney stones in adults.
Adults more at risk for recurring kidney stones as a result of coffee intake were non-white women who were not considered overweight.
If you meet these criteria and have had kidney stones in the past, limiting your caffeine and coffee intake may help to prevent future stones from forming.
Limit Sugary Drinks and Sodas
According to the National Kidney Foundation, a diet high in high fructose corn syrup (which is found in many sodas and other sweet drinks) can increase your risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones.
Calcium oxalate stones are the most common type of kidney stones that form when there are high levels of calcium, oxalate, cystine, or phosphate in the kidneys and urine.
Reduce Salt (Sodium) Intake
Eating a diet high in salt can also increase your risk of calcium oxalate stones.
A diet high in sodium can cause calcium to build up in your urine, which can lead to the formation of this type of kidney stone.
Reducing your intake of foods that are high in sodium, including many ultra-processed foods like chips and deli meats, can help to reduce your risk of developing calcium oxalate stones.
Limit Protein in Diet
Limiting your intake of animal protein may also decrease your chances of developing calcium oxalate stones, the most common type of kidney stone.
Protein sources you may consider limiting include:
- Organ meats
- Fish and shellfish
- Milk, cheese, and other dairy products
When To See a Medical Professional
Some kidney stones may not cause any symptoms and will pass on their own.
In other cases, kidney stones can cause extreme pain, nausea, or infection and will require medical care.
If you experience any of the below symptoms and/or if any of your symptoms get worse, reach out to a healthcare professional as soon as possible:
- Severe and consistent pain in your back or side
- Fever and chills
- Blood in your urine
- Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
- Inability to pass urine
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Apple Cider Vinegar for the Prevention of Urinary Lithiasis. (2019.)
Caffeine intake and the risk of recurrent kidney stones in adults, an analysis of 2007-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. (2019.)
Calcium Oxalate Stones. (2019.)
Daily intake of 100mg ascorbic acid as urinary tract infection prophylactic agent during pregnancy. (2007.)
Get the Facts: Apple Cider Vinegar. (2021.)
Kidney stones - self-care. (2020.)
Role of Citrus Fruit Juices in Prevention of Kidney Stone Disease (KSD): A Narrative Review. (2021.)
Soda and Other Beverages and the Risk of Kidney Stones. (2013.)
Water: How much should you drink every day? (2020.)