Kidney and Bladder Stones

What are kidney and bladder stones?

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multi-detector CT kidney stone image

Kidney or bladder stones are solid build-ups of crystals made from minerals and proteins found in urine. Bladder diverticulum, enlarged prostate, neurogenic bladder and urinary tract infection can cause an individual to have a greater chance of developing a bladder stones.

If a kidney stone becomes lodged in the ureter or urethra, it can cause constant severe pain in the back or side, vomiting, hematuria (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=hematuria) (blood in the urine) or fever and chills.

If bladder stones are small enough, they can pass on their own with no noticeable symptoms. However, once they become larger, bladder stones can cause frequent urges to urinate, painful or difficult urination and hematuria.

How are kidney and bladder stones evaluated?

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CT ureter kidney stone image

Imaging is used to provide your doctor with valuable information about the kidney or bladder stones, such as location, size and effect on the function of the kidneys. Some types of imaging that your doctor may order include:

  • Abdominal and pelvic CT (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominct): This is the most rapid scanning method for locating a stone. This procedure can provide detailed images of the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra, identify a stone and reveal whether it is blocking urinary flow. See the Safety page for more information about CT procedures.
  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP) (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=ivp): This is an x-ray examination of the kidneys, ureters and urinary bladder that uses iodinated contrast material injected into veins. See the Safety page for more information about x-rays.
  • Abdominal (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=abdominus) and Pelvic ultrasound (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=pelvus): These exams provide pictures of the kidneys and bladder and can identify blockage of urinary flow and help identify stones.

    For more information about ultrasound performed on children, visit the pediatric abdominal ultrasound page.

How are kidney and bladder stones treated?

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ultrasound kidney stone image

If a stone blocks urine flow and drainage of the kidney, there are a variety of possible treatments. An option that your doctor may choose is:

  • Ureteral stenting or nephrostomy (www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=ureteralNephro): A ureteral stent is a thin, flexible tube threaded into the ureter by a urologist to restore the flow of urine to the bladder from the kidney.

    A nephrostomy is performed by an interventional radiology when ureteral stenting is not possible or desirable. A tube is placed through the skin on the patient's back into the kidney and the tube is connected to an external drainage bag. The procedure is usually performed with fluoroscopy.

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Locate an ACR-accredited provider: To locate a medical imaging or radiation oncology provider in your community, you can search the ACR-accredited facilities database.

This website does not provide costs for exams. The costs for specific medical imaging tests and treatments vary widely across geographic regions. Many—but not all—imaging procedures are covered by insurance. Discuss the fees associated with your medical imaging procedure with your doctor and/or the medical facility staff to get a better understanding of the portions covered by insurance and the possible charges that you will incur.

Web page review process: This Web page is reviewed regularly by a physician with expertise in the medical area presented and is further reviewed by committees from the American College of Radiology (ACR) and the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), comprising physicians with expertise in several radiologic areas.

Outside links: For the convenience of our users, RadiologyInfo.org provides links to relevant websites. RadiologyInfo.org, ACR and RSNA are not responsible for the content contained on the web pages found at these links.

Images: Images are shown for illustrative purposes. Do not attempt to draw conclusions or make diagnoses by comparing these images to other medical images, particularly your own. Only qualified physicians should interpret images; the radiologist is the physician expert trained in medical imaging.

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This page was reviewed on April 12, 2012

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