In some ways, kidney stones are hard to miss. But if this particular ailment is new to you (or a loved one), you might not immediately recognize the cause of your symptoms.
Kidney stones are small pieces of minerals that bind together in your urinary tract. They can develop for a wide variety of reasons, but they almost universally cause significant discomfort. This pain usually starts in the back and works its way into the groin as the kidney stones work through the urinary tract. For many patients, passing kidney stones is the most painful part of this condition.
If you think you have kidney stones, you should seek medical treatment, as there are treatments available for this condition. Therapies include everything from pain medication to manage discomfort to outpatient procedures that break up and remove the stones.
How Do I Know if I am Passing Kidney Stones?
Your kidneys filter out all kinds of substances from your body every day. As a normal part of that process, calcium and other minerals will be collected into that one area. This normally doesn’t cause problems, especially when the amounts of these minerals remain low.
But every once in a while, those minerals reach sufficient quantities and they start to crystalize. That’s how those solid masses start to form. In some cases, kidney stones remain somewhat small while they pass. In other cases, the stones can continue to amass and grow.
In general, you’ll know you’re in the process of passing kidney stones if you notice the following symptoms:
- Abnormalities in your urine. If your urine is cloudy, pink, red, or brown, that could indicate a kidney stone.
- Urine that has an off odor.
- Urinating more often than usual or in smaller amounts than you would expect.
- Sharp pains in your side and back. Usually, this pain will be most present just under the ribs.
- Pain that radiates from your back down to your groin.
- Pain that fluctuates. You may have waves of less intense or more intense pain, depending on the moment.
- If the area becomes infected, you may experience fever and chills.
- Vomiting and nausea.
- A burning sensation when you urinate.
How Are Kidney Stones Treated?
In the vast majority of cases, kidney stones will take care of themselves. That’s what it’s called when the stones “pass” through the urinary tract. The process isn’t always pleasant--and the larger the stone, the greater the discomfort. In some cases, kidney stones can cause health concerns, so it’s important to discuss them with your urologist.
For smaller kidney stones, your physician will usually prescribe painkillers and recommend that you drink plenty of water. Depending on other symptoms, antibiotics may be prescribed--but this is usually to control infections and not designed to target the kidney stone itself. Smaller stones will usually pass in a few days or so.
Treating Larger Kidney Stones with Ureteroscopy
Larger stones may require a more active treatment approach. In some cases, that’s because they can cause significantly more discomfort. In other cases, it’s because large kidney stones can become trapped in the tube that travels from the kidneys to the bladder (called the Ureters).
In these cases, physicians may use a procedure called Ureteroscopy. During this procedure, a small telescoping tube is inserted into the urethra. The head-on tube is designed to capture and remove smaller stones in a special basket. But the device can also use a laser to cut up larger stones into more manageable pieces.
Ureteroscopy is typically performed under general anesthesia. There may be some swelling of the urethra or ureters after the procedure, so in some cases, stents may be left in place. Check out our anesthesia providers here.
Patients are usually allowed to return home for the duration of their recuperation.
Kidney stones are unpleasant, and there are some ways you can prevent them from occurring in the first place. Make sure to drink plenty of water and talk to your physician before starting to take calcium supplements.
If you think you’re passing kidney stones, talk to your doctor right away! There may be ways to limit your pain and discomfort, and you could prevent bigger problems down the road.