Signs And Symptoms Of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are one of the most common health issues affecting more than 200 million people around the globe. 

It appears to affect men more than women. 

Studies show that the lifetime risk of kidney stones in the western world is 10-12% in men and 5-6% in women. It appears that the condition is on the rise globally.

The formation of stones in the kidneys is called nephrolithiasis. 

Researchers think the global rise in the prevalence of kidney stones is due to the increase in chronic ailments. 

Understanding the symptoms and knowing what a kidney stone feels like may help in the early identification and thus prevent expensive and invasive interventions.

It is also essential to know what causes kidney stones to take preventive measures. 

Studies show that the four major causes of kidney stone formation are dietary, genetic, environmental, and lifestyle.

What are kidney stones?

Knowing what a kidney stone is and its symptoms is essential to understanding the condition. Kidney stones are also called renal calculi or urolithiasis, or nephrolithiasis. It is characterized by the deposition of salts and minerals inside the kidneys, resulting in stone formation.

It is also important to know that kidney stones can affect any part of the urinary tract, from the kidneys to the bladder. Stones generally form when urine becomes concentrated, thus promoting mineral crystallization. Such a process is repeated multiple times. 

Kidney stone pain is often severe and may be the only sign. Fortunately, most can pass these stones through urine.

Types of kidney stones

There are different types of kidney stones. Studies show that there are four types of kidney stones: calcium stones, uric acid stones, and in rare cases, struvite, and cysteine stones.

Calcium stones are the most common stones accounting for 75%-80% of all kidney stones. Some of the common calcium stones are calcium phosphate stones. 

Another common type is brushite stones made of calcium monohydrate phosphate. The third type, and among the most common types of calcium stones, are calcium oxalate stones. 

One of the reasons why calcium oxalate kidney stones and other calcium stones are so common is that they start forming even if urine becomes slightly over-concentrated. It means that they form more readily. 

Uric acid stones form due to the formation of uric acid crystals. The other two stones are less prevalent like struvite stones form due to bacterial imbalances. Cysteine stones are quite rare and occur due to certain genetic mutations.

calcium oxalate kidney stones

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

People need to know about the signs and symptoms of kidney stones, and the location of pain for early identification. However, they also need to know that kidney stones do not cause many symptoms in their early stages.

Kidney stones only cause pain when they pass into the ureter, a tube that connects the kidneys with a bladder. If the stone gets stuck in the ureter, it may cause kidneys to swell and may also cause ureter spasm, causing severe pain.

Some of the symptoms of kidney stones are:

  • Severe pain on the side or back, just below the ribs
  • Pain often radiates to the lower abdomen and even groins
  • The pain is spastic, which means that it comes in waves
  • One may experience pain and burning sensation while urinating

Among the less common signs of kidney stones are:

  • Change in the urine color
  • Foul smelling and cloudy urine
  • Frequent urge to urinate and person urinate in small amounts
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills due to infection in some instances

Kidney stone pain may change its location and intensity as the stone keeps moving through the ureter. It may become more intense at times.

What do kidney stones feel like?

It is vital to know what a kidney stone feels like. However, there may be no signs or symptoms in many instances, especially when the stone is small and still within the kidney.

Signs and symptoms only develop if the stone becomes too large, thus interfering with kidney function, causing kidneys to swell, and hence causing kidney colic pain.

However, most people may develop kidney stone signs when passing the stones via ureters. This causes significant irritation of the ureter and thus pain and spasms. The pain may often be severe and radiate to the lower abdomen and groin. Additionally, it might cause nausea and vomiting.

can kidney stones irritate the prostate

Where is the pain for kidney stones located?

Where the pain for kidney stones is located would depend on the kidney stone’s size and location.

Generally, larger stones passing through the ureter would cause more severe pain. The pain is usually located on the sides, just below the ribs, and slightly towards the back. From there, it often radiates to the lower abdomen and groin. 

Another important thing to understand is that this pain comes in waves. This is characteristic of spastic pains. 

The pain comes and goes and it may become quite intense at times. At other times, it may be dull and less severe.

How do I know if my pain is kidney stones?

Kidney stone pain location differs significantly from other pains, which helps differentiate it from other pains.

There are very few conditions that cause pain in the sides. Moreover, in this case, the pain is spastic. It means that the pain is quite sharp, but its intensities keep varying. 

It becomes intense and dull in waves. This kind of pain cannot be confused with pain caused by other issues like back pain or liver disease.

Additionally, the pain is not located exactly on the sides but towards the back. However, the location of the pain is not the spine. Instead, it is towards the side and back, just below the ribs. 

Another differentiating factor is that this pain radiates to the lower abdomen and groin. 

Moreover, the pain keeps changing location, which is not characteristic of other pains. This change in pain location occurs because the stone keeps moving in the ureter. 

Further, the presence of some urinary signs may also indicate that the pain has much to do with kidney disease.

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What can be mistaken for kidney stones?

Many conditions may cause similar symptoms to kidney stones, though not the same. Nevertheless, sometimes even doctors may struggle to differentiate the conditions. Therefore, they would often carry out other tests like blood tests, imaging, ultrasound probe, and more.

  • Pyelonephritis causes a similar kind of pain, but the pain is duller, and there are other symptoms of systemic infection like fever and chills.
  • Ovarian cyst
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Hepatitis, biliary cholic, and cholecystitis
  • Renal cancer
  • Herpes zoster 

When to see a doctor

You should see a doctor when experiencing more severe symptoms lasting more than a few days.

Seek immediate medical attention:

  • If the pain is intolerable and there is no position in which you feel comfortable
  • Severe nausea and vomiting along with pain
  • Blood in the urine
  • Fever and chills along with pain
  • Difficulty passing urine

How long does it take to pass a kidney stone?

People often ask how long does it take to pass a kidney stone? Well, it would depend on the size of the stone. 

Stones smaller than 4mm may pass within a couple of weeks. But larger stones may take much longer. Some stones may need weeks to pass.

Fortunately, small stones, in most cases, pass in just a few days. However, they might take longer in men living with urinary tract infections and prostate issues and older males with an enlarged prostate.

Conclusion

Kidney stone is relatively a common problem. Although understanding signs and symptoms may help identify the condition, one would need other tests like kidney function tests. In addition, sometimes, pain in urinary stone disease may be severe. 

Fortunately, most stones would pass and not require invasive treatments. However, doctors can help by recommending supplements, prescription medicines, and more. Some may also benefit from shock-wave lithotripsy. 

If you think you have signs and symptoms of kidney stones, it is better to seek medical advice before using any supplements.

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Sources

  1. Edvardsson VO, Indridason OS, Haraldsson G, Kjartansson O, Palsson R. Temporal trends in the incidence of kidney stone disease. Kidney International. 2013;83(1):146-152. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22992468/
  2. Shin S, Srivastava A, Alli NA, Bandyopadhyay BC. Confounding risk factors and preventative measures driving nephrolithiasis global makeup. World J Nephrol. 2018;7(7):129-142. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30510912/
  3. D’Costa MR, Haley WE, Mara KC, et al. Symptomatic and Radiographic Manifestations of Kidney Stone Recurrence and Their Prediction by Risk Factors: A Prospective Cohort Study. JASN. 2019;30(7):1251-1260. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31175141/
  4. Nojaba L, Guzman N. Nephrolithiasis. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed July 14, 2022. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559227/

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