Kidney stones might be small, but they can pack a powerful punch when it comes to pain. However, not all kidney stones make their presence known in the same way. Some might cause unbearable discomfort, while others might be silent lurkers.
Family physician Natalia Hapych, MD, offers insight into the different symptoms you might experience and provides guidance on when to seek medical help.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are solid masses made of minerals and salts that form inside your kidneys. These tiny troublemakers may not cause symptoms until they begin moving around your kidney or pass into your ureter — the tiny tube connecting your kidney and bladder. When this happens, you may experience some severe discomfort.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, each year, more than half a million people go to the emergency room for kidney stone problems. Fortunately, kidney stones are treatable, and most can pass on their own if they’re small enough.
“We’re noticing that lifestyle plays a significant role in kidney stone formation. Hydration and dietary habits can significantly impact your likelihood of developing these stones,” explains Dr. Hapych.
Now let’s dive into the symptoms.
Symptoms of Kidney Stones
Here are the top 10 signs you should watch out for:
Back or abdominal pain
One of the most common symptoms of kidney stones is pain. You may experience a sharp, cramping pain that starts in the back or side and moves toward the groin. The pain may come in waves, fluctuate in intensity, and last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.
Blood in your urine
If there’s a presence of blood in your urine, it could be a sign of a kidney stone. Your urine may appear pink, red, or brown. Remember, it’s not always visible to the naked eye, so if you’re experiencing other symptoms, your doctor may perform a urine test to check for hidden (microscopic) blood.
Frequent and painful urination
If you feel a frequent urge to urinate, much more than usual, or experience pain while urinating, it may indicate a kidney stone.
Nausea and vomiting
Sometimes, kidney stones can provoke nausea and vomiting. This response happens because the kidneys and gastrointestinal system share the same nerve pathways. When a stone irritates this pathway, your body may react with feelings of nausea or sickness.
Fever and chills
Fever and chills are signs that you may have an infection in your urinary tract. This can be a serious complication of kidney stones and requires immediate medical attention.
Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy
Cloudy or foul-smelling urine can also be a sign of a kidney stone. The cloudiness comes from the excess substances that created the stone. If the stone is associated with an infection, there might be a foul smell.
Difficulty sitting still
People suffering from kidney stones often find it hard to sit still and may feel the need to move around to find a more comfortable position.
Small amounts of urine
If a stone is blocking the flow of urine in your urinary tract, you may find that you can only pass a small amount of urine, even if you feel a strong urge to go.
Pain in the lower belly
Kidney stones can cause pain in the lower belly and groin area. This happens when the stone is moving from the kidney into the bladder through the ureter.
Swelling in legs and ankles
While this symptom is less common, some people with kidney stones can experience swelling in the legs and ankles due to reduced kidney function and fluid buildup.
When to call your doctor
If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to get in touch with your healthcare provider.
“Your doctor will conduct a comprehensive evaluation, which could involve a series of tests, including blood tests, urine tests, or imaging studies like CT scan or ultrasound, to confirm the presence of kidney stones,” says Dr. Hapych.
Treatment for kidney stones varies, depending on the size of the stone and your symptoms. Small stones with minimal symptoms can often be managed by drinking plenty of water, pain medication, and medications to help pass the stone. Larger stones might require more invasive treatments such as surgery or sound waves to break up the stones.
Dr. Hapych also stresses the importance of prevention, “Drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated, reducing salt intake, and eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can significantly help prevent kidney stones.”
Remember, if you’re experiencing severe pain, blood in your urine, or recurrent nausea and vomiting, seek immediate medical attention. These could be signs of a serious kidney stone complication.
Further Reading: Natural Remedies for Kidney Stones