Stones in the kidney often do not cause any signs and can go undiagnosed. When a stone leaves the kidney, it travels to the bladder through the ureter. Often the stone can become lodged in the ureter. When the stone blocks the flow of urine out of the kidney, it can cause the kidney to swell (hydronephrosis), often causing a lot of pain.
Common symptoms of kidney stones are:
A sharp, cramping pain in the back and side, often moving to the lower abdomen or groin. Some women say the pain is worse than childbirth labor pains.
A feeling of intense need to urinate.
Urinating more often or a burning feeling during urination.
Urine that is dark or red due to blood. Sometimes urine has only small amounts of red blood cells that can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Nausea and vomiting.
For men, you may feel pain at the tip of the penis.
“Silent” kidney stones, those that cause no symptoms, are often found when an X-ray is taken during a health exam. Other people have their stones diagnosed when sudden pain occurs while the stone is passing, and medical attention is needed.
When a person has blood in the urine (hematuria) or sudden abdominal or side pain, tests like an ultrasound or a CT scan may diagnose a stone. These imaging tests tell the health care provider how big the stone is and where it is located.
A CT scan is often used in the ER when a stone is suspected. It is used because it can make a quick and exact diagnosis.
Treatment depends on the type of stone, how bad it is and the length of time you have had symptoms. There are different treatments to choose from. It is important to talk to your health care provider about what is best for you.
Wait for the stone to pass by itself
Often you can simply wait for the stone to pass. Smaller stones are more likely than larger stones to pass on their own.
Waiting up to four to six weeks for the stone to pass is safe as long as the pain is bearable, there are no signs of infection, the kidney is not completely blocked and the stone is small enough that it is likely to pass. While waiting for the stone to pass, you should drink normal amounts of water. You may need pain medication when there is discomfort.
Certain medications have been shown to improve the chance that a stone will pass. The most common medication prescribed for this reason is tamsulosin. Tamsulosin (Flomax) relaxes the ureter, making it easier for the stone to pass. You may also need pain and anti-nausea medicine as you wait to pass the stone.
Surgery may be needed to remove a stone from the ureter or kidney if:
The stone fails to pass.
The pain is too great to wait for the stone to pass.
The stone is affecting kidney function. Small stones in the kidney may be left alone if they are not causing pain or infection. Some people choose to have their small stones removed. They do this because they are afraid the stone will unexpectedly start to pass and cause pain.
Kidney stones should be removed by surgery if they cause repeated infections in the urine or because they are blocking the flow of urine from the kidney. Today, surgery usually involves small or no incisions (cuts), minor pain and minimal time off work.
Dr. Lawrence Newman, one of Las Vegas’ leading urologist, specializes in treating painful kidney stones. Contact his office today for an appointment.