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What do kidney stones feel like?

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that form in the kidneys. They can range in size from a grain of sand to a golf ball and can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort as they pass through the urinary tract.

What are the causes of kidney stones?

Kidney stones can be caused by a variety of factors, including:

  • Dehydration

  • A diet high in salt and/or protein

  • Obesity

  • Certain medical conditions, such as gout or hyperparathyroidism

  • A family history of kidney stones


Some medications can also increase the risk of kidney stones, such as diuretics or calcium-based antacids. Additionally, certain types of kidney stones may be caused by specific underlying conditions, such as calcium oxalate stones in people with inflammatory bowel disease.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones?

The symptoms of kidney stones can vary depending on the size and location of the stone, but common symptoms include:

  • Severe pain in the back, side, or lower abdomen

  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity

  • Painful urination

  • Frequent urge to urinate

  • Pink, red, or brown urine

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Difficulty passing urine

  • Fever and chills (if an infection is present)


It is important to see a primary care provider if you experience any of these symptoms, as kidney stones can cause complications if left untreated.

What are the first signs of a kidney stone?

The first signs of kidney stones can vary, but they may include:

  • Pain: This is usually the first and most common sign of a kidney stone. The pain may start suddenly and be very intense, or it may come and go over time. The pain is often felt in the side or back, but it can also be felt in the lower abdomen, groin, or genital area.

  • Changes in urine: You may notice changes in the color or consistency of your urine, or you may experience frequent urination or a burning sensation when you urinate.

  • Nausea and vomiting: Some people with kidney stones may experience nausea and vomiting, which can be caused by the pain or the body's response to the stone.

  • Blood in urine: In some cases, you may see blood in your urine, which can be a sign of a kidney stone.

  • Other symptoms: You may experience other symptoms such as fever, chills, or difficulty urinating.


How to pass a kidney stone

Passing a kidney stone can be a painful process, but there are some things you can do to help facilitate the passage of the stone:

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help flush out the stone and prevent dehydration, which can make symptoms worse.

  • Take pain medication: Over-the-counter pain medication, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, can help alleviate pain and discomfort.

  • Use heat therapy: Applying a heating pad or hot water bottle to the affected area can help relax the muscles and ease pain.

  • Try herbal remedies: Some herbal remedies, such as chanca piedra, have been used to help pass kidney stones, but it is important to talk to your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.

  • Exercise: Physical activity, such as walking or light jogging, can help stimulate the passage of the stone.

  • Medical intervention: If the stone is too large to pass on its own or is causing complications, medical intervention may be necessary. This can include procedures such as shock wave lithotripsy, ureteroscopy, or surgery.


How long does it take to pass a kidney stone?

The time it takes to pass a kidney stone varies depending on several factors, including the size and location of the stone, as well as the individual's overall health.

Small stones (less than 5 mm in diameter) may pass through the urinary tract and out of the body within a few days to a few weeks, while larger stones may take several weeks to several months to pass, and some stones may require medical intervention to be removed.

How to diagnose kidney stones

  • Medical history: Your primary care provider will ask you about your symptoms, medical history, and any medications you are taking.

  • Physical examination: Your doctor may examine your abdomen and back for any signs of tenderness or swelling.

  • Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasounds, or CT scans can help identify the presence, size, and location of the kidney stones.

  • Urine tests: A urinalysis can help determine if there is an infection or if there are substances in your urine that can cause stones to form.

  • Blood tests: Blood tests can check for high levels of substances that can cause kidney stones, such as calcium or uric acid.


Based on the results of these tests, your urologist will be able to diagnose kidney stones and develop a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs.

How do you treat kidney stones? 

The treatment for kidney stones depends on the size, location, and type of stone, as well as your overall health and medical history. Treatment options may include:

  • Pain relief: Over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help relieve pain. Your doctor may also prescribe stronger pain medication if needed.

  • Drinking water: Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help flush out smaller stones and prevent new stones from forming.

  • Medications: Medications such as alpha blockers or calcium channel blockers can help relax the muscles in the urinary tract, making it easier for stones to pass.

  • Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL): This procedure uses shock waves to break up stones into smaller pieces that can be passed more easily.

  • Ureteroscopy: This procedure involves passing a thin tube with a camera through the urethra and into the bladder and ureter to remove the stone.

  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL): This surgical procedure involves making a small incision in your back to remove the stone.

  • Open surgery: In rare cases, open surgery may be necessary to remove large or complex stones.


Your urologist will discuss the best treatment option for you based on your individual needs and circumstances.

How can you prevent kidney stones?

  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water and other fluids can help flush out substances that can form stones.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Eating a diet that is low in sodium and animal protein, and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, can help prevent the formation of kidney stones.
  • Limit intake of certain foods: Foods that are high in oxalate, such as spinach, rhubarb, and nuts, should be consumed in moderation or avoided altogether.
  • Get enough calcium: Getting enough calcium from food sources or supplements can help prevent oxalate from being absorbed into the bloodstream and forming stones.
  • Limit vitamin C supplements: Taking too much vitamin C can increase the amount of oxalate in your urine, which can increase the risk of kidney stones.
  • Talk to your doctor: If you have a history of kidney stones, your primary care provider may recommend medications or other treatments to prevent future stones.

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