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How long can you have kidney stones before symptoms?

Kidney stones are hard deposits made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. They develop when your urine contains more crystal-forming substances — such as calcium, oxalate and uric acid — than the fluid in your urine can dilute. At first, kidney stones may cause no signs or symptoms as they develop. Small kidney stones may pass through your urinary tract on their own without treatment, causing little discomfort. But larger stones sometimes become lodged in your urinary tract. They can block the flow of urine and cause severe pain and other symptoms.

So how long can kidney stones be present without causing symptoms? Unfortunately, there is no exact timeframe. Some kidney stones can grow quite large in the kidneys without causing any symptoms at all. Other times, even a small kidney stone only a few millimeters in diameter can cause extreme pain as it passes through the narrow ureters from the kidneys to the bladder.

The time it takes for kidney stones to cause symptoms varies dramatically from person to person. But in general, larger kidney stones tend to cause symptoms more quickly than smaller ones. Very tiny stones may take weeks or even months to migrate from the kidneys and eventually pass through the urinary tract, if they cause symptoms at all. Moderate stones may take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to descend from the kidneys and result in pain. Large stones rarely go unnoticed for very long before obstructing urine flow and causing pain.

Factors That Influence Time to Symptoms

Several key factors affect how long it takes for kidney stones to go from silent development to causing noticeable symptoms:

Stone Size

Larger stones are more likely to get stuck along the urinary tract and cause blockages and pain sooner. Stones over 5 mm have a very low chance of passing spontaneously and often become symptomatic in a shorter timeframe.

Stone Location

Where the stone gets stuck also impacts symptoms. Stones lodged further down in the ureters or near the ureteropelvic junction cause symptoms sooner than stones still confined in the kidneys.

Stone Composition

Some stone types grow more quickly or are more likely to obstruct flow. Calcium stones tend to enlarge rapidly and cause symptoms sooner than uric acid stones, for example.

Anatomical Factors

Obesity, prior urinary tract surgery, abnormal kidney structure, and other anatomical factors that decrease space in the urinary tract can cause symptoms sooner.

Hydration Status

Dehydration causes urine to become more concentrated with higher levels of stone-forming minerals, accelerating stone growth. Staying well hydrated helps delay symptoms.


Certain medications like loop diuretics may increase urinary stone risk and time to symptoms. Others like thiazides help reduce stone formation.


Diets higher in sodium, oxalates, animal protein and sugar can promote faster kidney stone development and time to symptoms.

Underlying Conditions

Medical conditions leading to high calcium or uric acid levels shorten time to symptoms. Examples include hyperparathyroidism, gout, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea.

Typical Timeframes

While it’s impossible to predict exactly when an individual kidney stone will cause symptoms, general timelines have been observed:

Small Stones (

50% chance of passing within 31 days if located in the ureters. May take months to become symptomatic if still confined within the kidneys.

Medium Stones (5-10 mm)

May take weeks to months to pass through ureters. Likely to cause symptoms during this timeframe.

Large Stones (> 10 mm)

Rarely pass without intervention. Usually become symptomatic within days to weeks as they enlarge or migrate from the kidneys.

Common Early Symptoms

Kidney stones often produce these earliest signs something is wrong before acute attacks of pain from obstruction occur:

– Dull ache or pressure in the abdomen or groin
– Pink, red or brown urine from microscopic bleeding
– Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
– Increased urge to urinate
– Burning sensation during urination
– Small amounts of urine passed despite urge

If you develop these symptoms, get examined promptly for kidney stones before they get larger and cause severe obstruction. Catching stones early provides more treatment options with less complications.

When to Seek Emergency Care

In some cases, kidney stones require immediate emergency care. Seek help without delay if you have:

– Intense pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
– Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
– Fever and chills from an infected, obstructed kidney
– Signs of a urinary tract infection like painful burning urination
– Inability to pass any urine despite urgency
– Bloody urine from an obstructed kidney
– Confusion, drowsiness or fainting from dehydration

Severe obstruction that causes inability to urinate, kidney infection or decreased kidney function requires hospitalization for pain control and stone removal procedures.


To check for suspected kidney stones, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam, urine tests and imaging scans. Diagnostic tests may include:

– Urinalysis to look for blood or crystals
– Microscopic examination of urine sediment
– 24-hour urine collection to measure stone-causing minerals
– CT scan to visualize stones in urinary tract
– Ultrasound to view obstructing stones in ureters
– Kidney function blood tests if obstruction or infection

Outlook and Treatment

Small stones may pass on their own, but most require evaluations and treatment. Treatment options for kidney stones include:

– Pain medications
– Alpha blockers to relax ureters
– Lithotripsy shock waves to break up stones
– Surgery to remove very large or impacted stones
– Preventive therapy with medications and diet to prevent recurrence

After stone removal, be sure to get follow up testing to determine the stone composition so appropriate preventive steps can be taken. Kidney stones often come back within 5 years without prevention.


You can reduce your risk of developing kidney stones or having repeat episodes by:

– Drinking enough fluids, especially water
– Avoiding beverages high in sugar like soda
– Limiting sodium and animal protein intake
– Eating more fruits and vegetables which provide natural citrate
– Maintaining a healthy weight
– Taking prescribed medications to prevent stones

Consuming enough fluids each day is the single most important step. Urinate frequently throughout the day so your urine is pale yellow or clear. Dark yellow urine concentrates stone-forming salts.


Kidney stones can develop silently for weeks to months before eventually causing symptoms like abdominal pain and urinary urgency. But in other cases, stones enlarge rapidly or descend quickly and cause acute obstruction within days. Since it’s impossible to predict time to symptoms for a particular stone, be alert for common early signs like dull pain and pink urine. Seek prompt attention if you suspect stones before severe problems develop, and follow preventive approaches to avoid recurrence.