Kidney Stones: Early Signs and Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

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Kidney Stones: Early Signs and Symptoms
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Kidney stones can cause excruciating pain that can spread from your middle back through your abdomen to your pelvis. The agony from kidney stones can be worse when you try to urinate and can feel like a strong burning sensation. In some cases, kidney stones can cause a fever and you may notice the presence of blood in your urine (hematuria).

In many cases, kidney stones actually pass without causing any painful symptoms. Drinking plenty of water or drinking acidic drinks like apple cider vinegar can help to flush out even painful kidney stones. If you have extreme kidney stone pain, then you should see a doctor who will recommend the best way to get rid of the renal stones.

In this article, I will look at the many signs and symptoms of kidney stones. Very often, treating the first signs of kidney stones can help to prevent many of the painful symptoms that are associated with them. You will also learn what scientific evidence says about treating kidney stones naturally.

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What Are Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones are small hard mineral and salt deposits that can form in the kidneys. Doctors from PubMed Health say that urine contains various minerals that can crystallize if the urine is too concentrated. Over time, these crystallized compositions form into stone-like structures of varying shapes and size.1

Dr. Chirag Dave, an urologist from William Beaumont Health System, says that kidney stone disease is called nephrolithiasis. The medical name for kidney stones is renal calculi.2

Dr. Dave says that there are 4 main types of kidney stones, depending on the mineral composition:

  • Calcium stones. Most kidney stones are calcium stones that are made up of calcium oxalate or phosphate. Low fluid intake and consuming foods high in calcium oxalate can cause these types of kidney stones to form.
  • Struvite stones. These types of kidney stones account for about 15% of all cases of renal pain and are made up of magnesium and phosphate. Struvite stones are often connected with recurring urinary tract infections.
  • Uric acid stones. Uric acid stones form when there is too much uric acid in the urine and are associated with consuming foods that have high purine levels.
  • Cystine stones. Less common than the other types of kidney stones, cystine stones are connected with a metabolic defect.

What Do Kidney Stones Look Like?

Mineral deposits that form in the kidney look like small stones with ragged edges. In some cases, the stones may look as small as a grain of sand and will pass through the urinary system without any noticeable symptoms.

Dr. Glenn M. Preminger says that larger kidney stones can be seen with the naked eye. Kidney stones that are between 5 and 10 mm in size may cause considerable pain when urinating. However, some renal stones can be up to 1 inch in diameter and the stone can look like it has jagged deer’s antlers.3

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Doctors from Harvard Medical School say you may be able to see the kidney stone in the toilet after peeing. Some kidney stones could look like small black or dark smooth stones in the toilet. Other kidney stones may look like whitish or yellow bits of grit. Kidney stones that you see in the toilet after agonizing urination will probably look like small bits of sharp coral.4

If possible, doctors recommend collecting the kidney stones from the toilet to take for analysis. Knowing if the kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones, uric acid stones, or struvite stones can help you prevent recurring bouts of nephrolithiasis in the future.

Early Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Let’s look in more detail at some of the symptoms you can expect if large renal stones move through your urinary tract or they exit while urinating.

Severe back pain

Kidney stone pain is referred to as renal colic and is the most common symptom of having renal calculi in your kidneys or urinary system.

The journal Academic Emergency Medicine reports that kidney stone pain usually starts in the middle of your back where your kidneys are located.5 The pain usually comes and goes in waves before it becomes a steady, agonizing ache in your back. In most cases, the severe pain under your back ribs only affects one side of your back.

Very often the pain will spread down towards your groin as the rough pointed kidney stone moves through your urinary tract.

Flank pain

A common symptom of having kidney stones and a painful symptom that is difficult to ignore is flank pain. Your flank is the lower region of your back and the area just below your ribs.

The publication Endotext, when discussing kidney stone emergencies, says that one-sided flank pain due to kidney disorders is very common. When kidney stones cause flank pain, it feels like a sharp colicky pain along with tenderness of the flank area. Some people experience sudden attacks of intense pain between times of steady aching.6

Abdominal pain

Sharp, pressing pain in your back and lower abdominal region is also quite common if you have renal stones. If a jagged kidney stone has passed from your kidney to your urinary tract, the result will be severe pain as the stone travels.

The book Informed Health Online says that abdominal kidney stone pain can range from a dull ache to waves of intense pain. The pain is usually felt on one side of your abdomen and will become excruciating when it enters the bladder. This type of kidney stone pain can last for up to an hour.7

Kidney stones are also a reason for severe pain behind your belly button that travels to your groin.8

Genital pain

Some of the worst type of pain that kidneys stones will cause is when they are in the bladder and are passed out while urinating. Genital pain is very common when the kidney stone enters the lower ureter, as it can block the flow of urine.

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The journal Clinical Nutrition Research reported that kidney stones can cause sore testicles in men and a painful vagina in women. As with all large kidney stones, the genital discomfort will be excruciatingly painful until the stone is passed.9

Painful urination

Trying to pass a hard, crystallized stone will make peeing very sore indeed.

Researchers from the University of Rochester say that apart from lower abdominal pain, kidney stones will cause a painful burning sensation when passing urine. This may or may not result in passing the stone.10

Blood in Urine

Painful kidney stones that cause symptoms will almost always result in some blood in your urine. In many cases, the blood may not be detectable without a microscope but in some cases, your urine may appear pink or even red.

Dr. John M. Eisenberg from the Baylor College of Medicine says that if doctors suspect that flank pain is caused by kidney stones, they will take a urine test to check for blood. The urine test may also show up that there are crystals in your pee.11

The journal Primary Care reports that kidney stone symptoms in children may only show up as microscopic traces of blood in urine along with generalized lower abdominal pain.12

If a urinary tract infection is also present with the kidney stone, you may also have a cloudy urine.

Urine that smells

A symptom of having kidney stones is that your urine can give off a distinct, offensive odor. There are two reasons for smelly urine with kidney stones.

The first reason is to do with the type of mineral that forms the renal stone. The book StatPearls reports that cystine stones contain levels of sulfur. Therefore, cystine kidney stones will cause your pee to give off a stink of rotten eggs.13

The second reason for kidney stones causing smelly urine is that you could have a urinary tract infection. A bladder infection, kidney infection, or urinary tract infection can cause smelly pee, cloudy urine, and pain when passing urine.

Frequent urination

Irritation in the urinary tract caused by nephrolithiasis can increase the urgency and frequency that you need to pee.

Doctors on MedicineNet say that a sign the kidney stone has reached the lower abdomen is that a person will probably have to use the bathroom more often than usual. If the stone is larger than a few grains of sand, there will probably be a burning sensation when peeing.14

Difficulty urinating

A sign of a large kidney stone in men and women is that urination will become more difficult if there is a blockage in the urinary system.

Doctors say that it can be difficult making yourself pee if you have a kidney stone.11

Nausea and vomiting

The symptom of intense pain that kidney stones cause can be so severe that it can induce nausea and vomiting.7

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Fever and chills

Some symptoms of kidney stones that have caused a blockage in the urinary tract are fever and chills.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that an infection caused by the kidney stone can result in a fever and uncontrollable shaking.15

Urinary tract infection (common in women)

Struvite kidney stones often cause urinary tract infections (UTI), and other types of kidney stones that block the urinary tract can also cause UTIs.

Dr. Glen M. Preminger says that a blockage in the urinary tract can cause bacteria to build up in urine. This can cause symptoms like burning sensation when urinating, passing cloudy pee, and a frequent need to use the bathroom.3

Kidney Stones in Women

Kidney stones symptoms in women can occur more frequently than with men. There are a number of reasons why signs of kidney stones in women are becoming more common.

For example, the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology reported that in the years between 1997 and 2012, the increase of kidney stones in women was about 45%.16 Also, researchers from the Mayo Clinic reported that the incidence of kidney stones is increasing steadily, especially in women. One of the reasons for this was that women tend to suffer more from urinary tract infections.17

Another reason why older women suffer from symptoms of kidney stones is due to the menopause. The Journal of Urology reported that the incidence of kidney stones after the menopause rises. This is because estrogen seems to play a role in preventing kidney stones.18

Symptoms of kidney stones in women

Generally, the symptoms of kidney stones in women are the same as for men. According to doctors from the National Health Service, the common signs of kidney stones in women and men are:19

  • Constant flank pain that varies in intensity and may spread to the groin
  • Nausea along with severe abdominal and/or back pain
  • Increase need to urinate and only being able to pass small amounts of urine
  • Blood in urine
  • Symptoms of a urinary tract infection (more common in women)

How to Treat Kidney Stones Naturally

It can take a few weeks to pass a kidney stone. Doctors from the Washington University School of Medicine report that you can use home remedies for kidney stones for up to 6 weeks to try and pass them. If the kidney pain is so severe that you need to see a doctor, expulsive therapy will help to pass a kidney stone in a few days.

What can you do at home to try and pass a kidney stone naturally to get rid of the severe pain?

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Drink plenty of water

Flushing your kidneys by drinking plenty of water doesn’t just help to keep your kidneys in good health, but it can help to get rid of stones easier.

Doctors from the Mayo Clinic say that you can pass small kidney stones that have mild symptoms by drinking 2 to 3 quarts (2 to 3 liters) of water daily. You should drink enough water to pass the kidney stone so that your urine is almost clear.20

Apple cider vinegar

Drink diluted apple cider vinegar drinks throughout the day to help dissolve kidney stones and make them easier to pass.

Research published in the Journal of Mass Spectrometry reported that acetic acid (apple cider vinegar has high levels of acetic acid) helps to dissolve certain types of kidney stones.21

To help pass a kidney stone with apple cider vinegar, mix 2 teaspoons of apple cider vinegar in a glass of water. Drink frequently during the day to help pass the stone and relieve your symptoms of kidney stone pain.

Lemon juice

Consuming lemon juice drinks also helps to dissolve calcium kidneys stones due to its acidic properties.

The journal Urological Research reported that lemon juice helps to treat kidney stones because it reduces levels of potassium citrate in urine. People who consumed lemon juice found that symptoms of urinary calcium stones were greatly reduced.22

Make a home remedy for kidney stones by squeezing the juice of half a lemon into a glass of water. Drink between 6 and 8 glasses a day to help get rid of kidney stone pain and pass the stones easier.

Warm compress for kidney stone pain

Even if your kidney stones are too large to pass naturally, there are still some home remedies you can use to ease flank pain.

The Journal of Urology reported that a warm compress can help to ease renal colic in cases of severe abdominal and flank pain. Studies found that people suffering from extreme kidney pain were greatly helped with placing a heating pad on the abdomen or back. They had fewer symptoms of pain, anxiety, and nausea.23

How to Prevent Kidney Stones

Of course, the best way to deal with the pain caused by kidney stones is to prevent them from forming in the first place. Many researchers have linked an increase in the prevalence of kidney stones to diet.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommend the following steps to prevent kidney stones:24

  • Drink between 6 to 8 large glasses of water daily
  • Reduce your weight if you are overweight
  • Limit the amount of sodium in your diet
  • Try to avoid peanuts, nuts, spinach, and wheat bran to reduce the amount of oxalate in your urine
  • Limit animal protein and replace it with plant-based protein
  • Avoid food and drinks that contain fructose25

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you have any uncomfortable signs or symptoms of kidney stones. Doctors from the Mayo Clinic recommend seeing your doctor or going to the hospital emergency room for kidney stone symptoms in the following circumstances:15

  • You have waves of severe and intense abdominal pain
  • You pass urine that looks pink or bloody
  • Flank pain or groin pain is accompanied by nausea, vomiting, fever, or chills
  • You only pass small amounts of urine

Related Articles:

Medical Sources

  1. NCBI. Kidney stones: overview.
  2. Medscape. Nephrolithiasis. Etiology.
  3. MSDManuals. Stones in the urinary tract.
  4. HealthHarvard. Kidney stones.
  5. Acad Emerg Med.2013 May;20(5):470-8.
  6. NCBI. Kidney stone emergencies.
  7. NCBI. Kidney stones: overview.
  8. NCBI. Renal calculi: symptoms.
  9. Clin Nutr Res. 2015 Jul; 4(3): 137–152.
  10. URMC. Kidney stones.
  11. NCBI. Imaging tests to check for kidney stones.
  12. Prim Care. 2008 Jun; 35(2): 369–vii.
  13. NCBI. Renal calculi (cystinuria, cystine stones).
  14. MedicineNet. Kidney stones in adults.
  15. MayoClinic. Kidney stones.
  16. CJASN. 2016 Jan: 07610715.
  17. MayoClinic. Kidney stones on the rise.
  18. J Urol.2002 Nov;168(5):1923-7.
  19. NHS. Kidney stones. Symptoms.
  20. MayoClinic. Kidney stones. Diagnosis.
  21. J Mass Spectrom.2011 Mar;46(3):313-9.
  22. Urol Res.2008 Dec;36(6):313-7.
  23. J Urol.2003 Sep;170(3):741-4.
  24. NIDDK. Eating, diet & nutrition for kidney stones.
  25. PubMed Health. Renal Calculi.
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