According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1 in 11 people in the U.S. will get a kidney stone. Formed from a hard collection of salt and minerals (mainly calcium or uric acid) inside the kidney, they can travel through the urinary tract causing pain and discomfort in their wake. They vary in size — some too small to even notice, some so large they’re impossible to pass on their own. Although they can occur in anyone no matter their health, kidney stones are more common in men, people with diabetes and those who are overweight.
So what are the common symptoms? Read on to find out.
- Belly and back pain. The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project reports that kidney stones account for an estimated 1.3 million emergency room visits each year. Why? Because they can be incredibly painful. As the kidney stone moves from the kidney to the narrow ureter, pressure builds up in the kidney. This sends pain signals to the brain. As the kidney stone moves, the pain changes location — often suddenly and with varying degrees of intensity — sharp, often burning pain radiating from your side to back to belly to groin area. Although larger stones can be more painful to pass than smaller ones, the level of pain doesn’t necessary indicate the size of the stone. Even small stones can be extremely painful depending on how the stone is moving down the urinary tract.
- Burning when you urinate. When the kidney stone moves from the ureter to the bladder, you’ll likely feel sharp pain when you urinate. Some people mistake this symptom for a urinary tract
infection (which you could have in addition to the stone — this occurs in about 8 percent of individuals with acute kidney stones), but the kidney stone symptoms will likely intensify.
- Blood in the urine. Known as hematuria, this symptom could accompany numerous health issues, but in the case of kidney stones, blood in the urine could be red, pink or brown. It could also be microscopic, in which case your doctor can test for it.
- Nausea and vomiting. Kidney stones can trigger nerves in the GI tract, which is why nausea and vomiting are common symptoms. This can also be your body’s way of responding to intense pain, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Sudden need to urinate — and then difficulty going. Another sign that the kidney stone has moved into the lower part of the urinary tract is the sudden need to urinate. But with a kidney stone blocking the flow of urine, you might only be able to go a small amount at a time. Note that if the urine flow stops altogether, it’s considered a medical emergency, and you should see your doctor right away.
- Fever and chills. If you have fever or chills with your kidney stones, it means you’ve likely developed an infection in your kidney or the urinary tract. Keep in mind that any time you experience pain and a fever higher than 100.4°, you should see your doctor.
Kidney stones are common, but that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Treatment options will depend on the size of the stone, but most stones can be addressed in a urologist’s office rather than the ER. Your urologist can address your pain immediately and schedule imaging to see what’s going on.
If you are experiencing kidney pain or suspect you might be suffering from kidney stones, contact our office to be seen by a specialist.