Last updated date: 23-Sep-2023
Originally Written in English
Kidney Stones Pain – Your Ultimate Guide to Kidney Stones
If you’ve ever been unlucky enough to have suffered with kidney stones in the past, you certainly won’t need us to talk about just how painful and debilitating the condition can be.
For everybody else that hasn’t, just rest assured that kidney stones are incredibly debilitating and are a medical condition which you will want to avoid at all costs. Not only can kidney stones be very painful, they can also be a slow and gradual build, which means that you’ll find your quality of life getting worse and worse with the passing of each day, until you eventually pass the stones in question.
Both men and women can be affected by kidney stones, and to make matters worse they can affect people of all ages, though they are common with people of a certain age (more on that later).
Taking care of your urinary tract, and your health in general can certainly help to reduce your risk of kidney stones, but in order to fully deal with them, we first need to understand them.
Here is a detailed look at what causes kidney stones pain, and kidney stones in general.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are generally not considered to be life threatening, though in some extreme cases they can be. Despite them not being life threatening, kidney stones are incredibly painful and they can be excruciatingly painful to pass.
The medical name for kidney stones is Nephrolithiasis, though they are also referred to renal colic. These hard stones are formed in the body, specifically in the kidneys and can form in either, or both kidneys.
Your urine contains a number of salts and minerals which have been dissolved in it. Now, in most instances, these minerals and salts are found in low concentrations which basically means that you don’t need to worry when you excrete them.
However, if the concentrations of minerals and salts in the urine become too high, they can crystalize and overtime form hard and dense stones of varying sizes and densities.
Different types of kidney stones
Just to make matters worse, there isn’t just one specific type of kidney stone which can affect us. There are in fact a number of different types of kidney stones, and these include:
- Calcium stones, which are the most common type of kidney stone
- Struvite stones, which are usually caused by an infection such as a UTI
- Uric acid stones, which are typically caused by large quantities of acid in the urine
Kidney stones can come in a variety of different shapes, sizes, and colours. Some can be as small as a grain of sand, whereas others can potentially be as large as a golf ball, though stones of that size are very rare.
So, what’s the science behind kidney stones?
Okay, we now know the basics behind kidney stones, but what is the science behind what they are and how they’re formed?
As we now know, kidney stones form in the kidneys thanks to large concentrations of salts and minerals found in our urine. Our urine is how we excrete waste products from the body which we do not need. If there are too many of these salts/minerals in too little liquid and concentrations become too high, this can result in hard crystals beginning to form which can then form kidney stones.
The main issue here is that once a small crystal has formed, the crystal then attracts other elements in the urine which then clump and band together to form a larger solid which will continue to grow and grow until it is excreted from the body in your urine.
Now, your kidneys are there to help remove any impurities from your urine and they basically act as filtration devices and remove chemicals and elements which should not be there. Having enough liquid in the urine usually dilutes down these chemicals enough to make passing them easy, or other elements and chemicals may break them down and stop them from forming. This isn’t always the case, though.
Once a hard stone has formed thanks to the crystallization process, the “stone” will either stay in the kidney, or it may make its way down the urinary tract and into the ureter, which is when things really become painful.
If you’re lucky enough to pass a small kidney stone, you should pass it without very much pain and discomfort. You may experience a very slight stinging or tingling sensation as you pee, but that’s it.
If however, you find that a large stone has formed which cannot be passed, this can cause a backup of urine into the kidneys, bladder, or ureter, which can then cause a burning sensation and a great deal of pain and discomfort.
Who is at risk of kidney stones?
As we mentioned earlier on, kidney stones can affect both men and women, and can affect people of any age, from any walk of life.
With that said, though, there are certain people who are more at risk of a kidney stone than others.
Roughly 1 in 10 people will suffer with kidney stones at some point in their lives, with people most at risk being aged between 30 and 60 years of age.
Genetically speaking, men are roughly 19% likely to suffer with kidney stones compared with women, who are 9% likely to suffer with them.
Certain diseases and conditions can also increase your risk of kidney stones. These include:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
As well as things like dehydration whereby people don’t drink enough fluids, another risk factor for kidney stones is medication or lifestyles which elevate concentrations of certain minerals such as calcium or uric acid.
There is also evidence to suggest that kidney stones run in families and can therefore be considered to be genetic.
What are the symptoms of kidney stones?
If you suffer with kidney stones, there are several symptoms you will need to keep an eye out for.
Some people may experience kidney stones and not even realize it as the stones that they passed were so small they didn’t even notice, or they barely noticed. If you are unlucky enough to suffer with a larger kidney stone that becomes lodged in your ureter, this can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort in the abdomen, kidneys, and groin, and could lead to a urinary tract infection, also known as a UTI.
Incidentally, your ureter is the tube in your body that connects the kidney to your bladder, and to the urethra, which is the tube which is responsible for helping urine to pass from the body.
Some of the primary symptoms associated with kidney stones include the following:
- Pain or aching on one or both sides of the lower back, where your kidneys are located
- Feelings of restlessness and finding it difficult to sit still
- Spasms in the groin, stomach, or genital area
- Feeling as if you need to urinate more frequently
- Pain whilst urinating
- Feelings of nausea and sickness
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Blood in the urine
- Stinging after you have urinated
- Trouble sleeping
Now, if you find that the kidney stone has caused a kidney infection or a UTI, you may experience more severe side effects and symptoms.
When a kidney stone causes a major blockage, waste products are unable to leave the body, and as a result, harmful bacteria can begin to build up, which can then lead to a kidney infection, which could potentially be very serious.
These symptoms include:
- High temp of 38 degrees C or above
- Shivering and chills
- Smelly urine
- Cloudy urine
How to treat kidney stones?
In most instances, kidney stones will pass by themselves, and while perhaps being a little painful, they likely won’t cause too many issues or side effects.
In the event of a large kidney stone however, you should speak to your doctor and seek out medical advice.
Some common treatment options for kidney stones include:
Shock wave lithotripsy
Shock wave lithotripsy is a procedure which utilizes soundwaves to break up the stones into smaller fragments, thereby making it much easier for them to be excreted in the urine.
This is a popular treatment option because it is non-invasive and is therefore far less painful.
This next treatment option is more invasive, and it requires a long and thin telescope to be inserted up the urethra, into the bladder, and then into the ureter.
The surgeon will then try to break up the stone with another instrument, or break it up using a laser so that it can be excreted in your urine.
Perhaps the most invasive procedure of all is open surgery.
This treatment is very rare, and is only for extreme cases. Here, a surgeon will open you up from the back, access the kidneys, and carefully remove the stone from your kidney/kidneys before closing you back up again.