Skip to Main Content

Schedule certain appointments online. Get started

Treating Kidney Stones

Treatments for kidney stones have advanced significantly in recent years. The urologists at Virginia Mason are experts in the latest advances, and our patients can expect safe and efficient treatment.

Much research has been done on using alpha blockers to help the body pass stones. The effectiveness of alpha blockers is still being studied, but they do appear to help. Generally, a stone smaller than six millimeters has a better chance than larger ones of passing out of the body during urination.

Surgical intervention may be necessary if:

  • There is an infection in the urinary tract
  • A stone obstruction is on the verge of causing kidney damage
  • Nausea and vomiting cannot be controlled
  • Pain cannot be controlled with mediations

Kidney stones can be measured with various imaging techniques. The size of stones – and their location – helps determine if surgery is needed, and which approach to use.

Surgical procedures for removing kidney stones include lithotripsy, ureteroscopy and percutaneous nephrostolithotomy.


Lithotripsy involves using shock waves to break up kidney stones so a surgeon can remove them or so they can move out of the body during urination. During lithotripsy, patients lay on a special table, and shock waves are administered that pass through their skin. 

This is done as an outpatient procedure, and patients go home the same day.


Ureteroscopy uses a small fiber-optic scope that can be passed through the urethra and bladder directly into the ureter and kidney.

Energy waves from various sources, including lasers, can be administered through the scope to beak up the stones. The stone pieces can then pass through the urinary system or be removed by the surgeon.

This approach is very effective in breaking up extremely hard stones, and those less than one centimeter in diameter. Ureteroscopy is also done as an outpatient procedure, with patients going home the same day.

Percutaneous nephrostolithotomy

Percutaneous nephrostolithotomy is a surgery to remove kidney stones through a small incision in the back.

During the procedure, the surgeon places a small tube through the incision directly into the kidney. Various scopes and other tiny tools can be inserted through the tube as needed. The stones may be removed whole, or the surgeon may break up the stones and remove the pieces.

Patients who have percutaneous nephrostolithotomy usually spend one to two days in the hospital.

For more information about kidney stones or to schedule an appointment, call 206-223-6772.