An X-ray may be able to help doctors detect larger kidney stones and monitor the size of kidney stones in response to treatment. Other imaging tests may help doctors diagnose smaller stones.

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You’ve probably heard of kidney stones before — an estimated 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives.

According to the National Kidney Foundation, the prevalence of kidney stones has more than doubled in the past 30 years.

Common symptoms include:

  • pain on either side of your lower back
  • stomach pain that does not go away
  • urine that looks cloudy or contains blood
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • chills

Having a history of diabetes and high blood pressure may increase your risk of developing kidney stones.

If you’re experiencing symptoms or suspect that you have kidney stones, you may be wondering how this condition is diagnosed. This article will explain when, or if, you may need an X-ray for kidney stones and explore alternative tests.

If your doctor suspects kidney stones, they may order a KUB (kidney-ureter-bladder) X-ray. This is an imaging test that uses low levels of radiation to produce images of your abdomen. X-rays can help show the size and location of kidney stones in your urinary tract.

However, X-rays are not used as often as some other tests because they can miss smaller kidney stones such as uric acid stones.

In some cases, a doctor may recommend an X-ray as your first imaging test to detect large kidney stones. However, it’s not the best choice for diagnosing kidney stones.

Rather, an X-ray is often used after diagnosis to monitor changes in stone size during treatment.

Your doctor may also order other imaging tests, such as CT scans and ultrasounds, to get a more detailed picture.

In addition to imaging tests, you will likely undergo a physical exam, urinalysis, and blood tests.

CT scans

A CT scan is a type of imaging test that combines X-rays with computer technology to create images of your urinary tract. A CT scan can give off significantly more radiation than an X-ray.

These scans have higher sensitivity than X-rays and can identify smaller kidney stones. They also provide more detailed images, showing the stones’ exact size and location.

Healthcare professionals working in the emergency room often use CT scans because they provide quicker and more detailed images, allowing for faster diagnoses.

CT scans are the most accurate imaging test for kidney stones.


Although CT scans are the most accurate type of imaging for kidney stones and are often used in emergencies, ultrasounds are also acceptable.

A doctor may recommend that you undergo an ultrasound first because it’s quick, safe, and easy. Unlike an X-ray or CT scan, it doesn’t involve radiation.

Although CT scans have superior sensitivity, using ultrasound first is an accepted practice and has been shown to have similar performance in emergencies.

However, if the ultrasound image is unclear, you may still need a CT scan.

Without insurance, an X-ray may cost anywhere from $60 to $460 or more. The cost depends on the technician, the location, the body part being examined, and the number of views. It’s a good idea to ask about cost and payment options when scheduling your appointment. Some facilities offer discounted rates for people who are paying out of pocket, or without insurance.

If you have private insurance, you can call the number on the back of your insurance card to discuss your coverage and expected costs. Depending on your deductible and out-of-pocket expenses, you may be fully covered or may need to pay a portion or the full amount for the test.

If you qualify for Medicare in the United States, it will pay most treatment costs associated with kidney disease. Imaging tests are covered under Part B, and Medicare will pay 80% of charges after deductibles.

If you have kidney disease, you are also eligible to apply for Medicare Advantage for additional coverage. Your insurance options may change as kidney disease progresses.

There are other insurance options, such as Medicaid, the ACA marketplace, and employer group health plans. The National Kidney Foundation has a resource guide to help you learn more about insurance.

Can you see kidney stones on X-ray?

Yes, kidney stones are visible on an X-ray. An X-ray can give your doctor information on the stones’ size and location, but it may not detect smaller kidney stones.

What test confirms a kidney stone?

Typically, diagnosis involves a physical examination, blood test, urinalysis, and imaging test. Imaging tests may include an X-ray, CT scan, or ultrasound.

Which is better for kidney stones, ultrasound or X-ray?

An ultrasound is better for kidney stones, as it can detect smaller stones and does not involve radiation.

If you suspect kidney stones, a doctor will order an imaging test and perform other examinations.

There are different types of imaging tests, including X-rays, CT scans, and ultrasounds.

CT scans are the best way to diagnose a kidney stone, as they have the highest sensitivity for detecting size and location of a stone. However, your doctor may order an ultrasound, which is also effective and does not involve radiation.

An X-ray may miss small stones, so it is not ideal for diagnosing kidney stones. However, healthcare professionals may use X-rays to monitor the stone size during treatment.