How is nephrolithiasis treated?

Updated: Jun 21, 2018
  • Author: Chirag N Dave, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Answer

Treatment of nephrolithiasis involves emergency management of renal (ureteral) colic, including surgical interventions where indicated, and medical therapy for stone disease.

In emergency settings where concern exists about possible renal failure, the focus of treatment should be on correcting dehydration, treating urinary infections, preventing scarring, identifying patients with a solitary functional kidney, and reducing risks of acute kidney injury from contrast nephrotoxicity, particularly in patients with preexisting azotemia (creatinine >2 mg/dL), diabetes, dehydration, or multiple myeloma.

Adequate intravenous (IV) hydration is essential to minimize the nephrotoxic effects of IV contrast agents.

Most small stones in patients with relatively mild hydronephrosis can be treated with observation and acetaminophen. More serious cases with intractable pain may require drainage with a stent or percutaneous nephrostomy. The internal ureteral stent is usually preferred in these situations because of decreased morbidity.

Acetaminophen can be used in pregnancy for mild-to-moderate pain. Opioid drugs, such as morphine and meperidine, are pregnancy category C medications, which means they can be used but they cross the placental barrier. Opioids can cause respiratory depression in the fetus; therefore, they should not be used near delivery or when other medications are adequate.

A chemical composition analysis of the stone should be performed whenever possible, and information should be provided to motivated patients about possible 24-hour urine testing for long-term nephrolithiasis prophylaxis. This is particularly important in patients with only a single functioning kidney, those with medical risk factors, and children. However, any strongly motivated patients can benefit from a prevention analysis and prophylactic treatment if they are willing to pursue long-term therapy.

The size of the stone is an important predictor of spontaneous passage. A stone less than 4 mm in diameter has an 80% chance of spontaneous passage; this falls to 20% for stones larger than 8 mm in diameter. However, stone passage also depends on the exact shape and location of the stone and the specific anatomy of the upper urinary tract in the particular individual. For example, the presence of a ureteropelvic junction (UPJ) obstruction or a ureteral stricture could make passing even very small stones difficult or impossible. Most experienced emergency department (ED) physicians and urologists have observed very large stones passing and some very small stones that do not move.

Aggressive medical therapy has shown promise in increasing the spontaneous stone passage rate and relieving discomfort while minimizing narcotic usage. Aggressive treatment of any proximal urinary infection is important to avoid potentially dangerous pyonephrosis and urosepsis. In these cases, consider percutaneous nephrostomy drainage rather than retrograde endoscopy, especially in very ill patients.

Medical therapy for stone disease takes both short- and long-term forms. The former includes measures to dissolve the stone (possible only with noncalcium stones) or to facilitate stone passage, and the latter includes treatment to prevent further stone formation. Stone prevention should be considered most strongly in patients who have risk factors for increased stone activity, including stone formation before age 30 years, family history of stones, multiple stones at presentation, and residual stones after surgical treatment.


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