How to Spot the Signs of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are a pain (literally). These small, hard objects form in the kidneys from chemicals in urine. Urine may carry kidney stones from their namesake organs into the ureters, the two tubes that connect the kidneys and bladder. Stones that get stuck in these tubes can block urine and cause intense pain—one of the first signs of kidney stones.

Kidney stones are common, but that doesn’t mean you should take them lightly. If you’re in pain, the providers at River’s Edge Hospital’s Urgent Care Department can offer guidance.

If you have kidney stones, you have a higher risk for developing urinary tract infections and chronic kidney disease—all the more reason to seek medical attention quickly when symptoms occur. First, however, you have to be able to recognize the signs of kidney stones.

What Are the First Signs of Kidney Stones?

At the top of the list of signs of kidney stones is pain. Sharp, severe pain in the middle or on the sides of the lower back is, for many people, the first indication that they have a kidney stone. Pain may also occur in the groin or lower abdomen. Discomfort may come and go or remain constant.

In addition to pain, you may experience other symptoms, including:

  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • Dark, cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Inability to pass urine or empty your bladder
  • Needing to urinate more frequently
  • Pain while urinating

You may experience nausea and vomiting, or you may develop chills and a fever.

Passing Kidney Stones

If a kidney stone is small enough, allowing it to pass on its own is often the first treatment that healthcare providers recommend. Naturally, everyone wants kidney stones to pass quickly, but speed isn’t guaranteed—the process may take weeks, and you may need to take an over-the-counter pain medication to manage discomfort. To help move things along, drink lots of water. Your healthcare provider may prescribe a medication to relax the ureter and improve the chance of passing the stone.

Some kidney stones take too long to pass naturally or are too big to do so. That may indicate surgery is the best treatment option. Specialists can use shock waves to break up the stones into pieces small enough to pass on their own, use a scope passed up the ureter to take out stones or remove stones through a back or side incision.

Preventing Kidney Stones

Help keep kidney stones from forming with these steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases recommends drinking six to eight, 8-ounce glasses of fluid per day. Water is best, and you can make it more appealing—and boost its preventive power—by adding lemon juice. Lemon juice contains citrate, which can help stop kidney stone formation. If your urine is clear or light yellow, you’re well-hydrated.
  • Get enough calcium, but not too much. Try to meet but not exceed the National Institutes of Health’s daily calcium intake recommendations for adults. Men ages 19–50 need 1,000 milligrams per day, followed by 1,200 milligrams starting at age 71. Women ages 19–50 need 1,000 milligrams daily, which increases to 1,200 milligrams at age 51.
  • Give your diet a makeover. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat and salty foods. You should consume no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Your physician can make specific dietary recommendations based on the composition of your kidney stones.

Learn about River’s Edge surgical services, which include treatment of kidney stones.


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