FPIN's Help Desk Answers

Alpha Blockers for Nephrolithiasis


Am Fam Physician. 2019 Dec 1;100(11):710-712.

Clinical Question

How effectively do alpha blockers increase ureteral stone passage?

Evidence-Based Answer

The alpha blocker tamsulosin (Flomax) can be used to improve clearance of stones larger than 5 mm, shorten expulsion times, and reduce hospitalization. (Strength of Recommendation: B, based on meta-analyses of moderate-quality randomized controlled trials.) Alfuzosin (Uroxatral), doxazosin (Cardura), and silodosin (Rapaflo) are also effective but have significantly more adverse effects.


A 2018 Cochrane review compared alpha blockers with placebo or standard therapy for urinary stone expulsion.1 The five highest-quality placebo-controlled studies with the lowest risk of bias found a benefit. A subgroup analysis of 15 moderate-quality randomized controlled trials identified significant differences based on stone size. When all of the alpha blocker vs. placebo studies were included (seven studies; N = 3,240), there were fewer days to stone clearance when alpha blockers were used (mean difference [MD] = −1.98 days; 95% CI, −3.71 to −0.24). When individual studies reported results for stones 6 to 10 mm, the decreased time to clearance was even better (four studies; n = 1,884; MD = −5.99 days; 95% CI, −7.16 to −4.82). Improvement in time to stone clearance was not statistically significant when the three highest-quality studies (n = 2,891) were included (MD = −1.72; 95% CI, −5.13 to 1.68). Moderate-quality evidence showed fewer hospitalizations in patients who were treated with alpha blockers (13 studies; n = 1,876; relative risk [RR] = 0.51; 95% CI, 0.34 to 0.77). However, there was some risk of bias, and limiting the analysis to the highest-quality studies found no statistical difference (one study; n = 403; RR = 0.87; 95% CI, 0.49 to 1.52). There was no subgroup analysis of hospitalization rate based on stone size.

The studies that evaluated tamsulosin did not find any increase in adverse effects (13 studies; n = 2,062; RR = 1.24; 95% CI, 0.62 to 2.47). Three other alpha

Address correspondence to Richard A. Guthmann, MD, MPH, at rick.guthmann@advocatehealth.com. Reprints are not available from the authors.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial affiliations.


1. Campschroer T, Zhu X, Vernooij RW, et al. Alpha-blockers as medical expulsive therapy for ureteral stones. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2018;(4):CD008509.

2. Meltzer AC, Burrows PK, Wolfson AB, et al. Effect of tamsulosin on passage of symptomatic ureteral stones: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Intern Med. 2018;178(8):1051–1057.

Clinical Inquiries provides answers to questions submitted by practicing family physicians to the Family Physicians Inquiries Network (FPIN). Members of the network select questions based on their relevance to family medicine. Answers are drawn from an approved set of evidence-based resources and undergo peer review. The strength of recommendations and the level of evidence for individual studies are rated using criteria developed by the Evidence-Based Medicine Working Group (https://www.cebm.net).

The complete database of evidence-based questions and answers is copyrighted by FPIN. If interested in submitting questions or writing answers for this series, go to https://www.fpin.org or email: questions@fpin.org.

This series is coordinated by John E. Delzell Jr., MD, MSPH, associate medical editor.

A collection of FPIN's Clinical Inquiries published in AFP is available at https://www.aafp.org/afp/fpin.



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