6 Kidney Stone Symptoms and When to See a Urologist

December 17, 2018

Kidney stones can occur in adults of any age and can be extremely painful and inconvenient. About 11% of men and 7% of women in the United States will experience a kidney stone at some point, and approximately half of those who experience kidney stones will get them again. There are 4 different types of kidney stones and knowing which one you have can help determine the appropriate course of action. It’s important to identify your symptoms and understand when your kidney stone occurrence merits an appointment to see a urologist.

Common Kidney Stone Symptoms

Kidney stones can be debilitating and painful (sometimes excruciating). While a stone forms in the kidney, there may be no signs or symptoms. Most people start experiencing symptoms once the formed stone passes into the ureter (the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder). The most common kidney stone symptoms include:

  1. Pain in the side and/or back – This pain is usually sharp and severe, and occurs in the side and back below the ribs (upper back and shoulder pain is not indicative of kidney stones). This pain is typically inconsistent and will come and go in waves.
  2. Pain that radiates toward the lower abdomen and/or groin – Again, this is typically not a steady pain, but rather a pain that comes in waves of intensity.
  3. Painful urination or discoloration of urine – Urine color that is pink, red, or brown is often indicative of blood in the urine, possibly due to kidney stones. Other urine colors may be indicative of other issues (see our article on urine color and odor for more information).  Urine that is cloudy and foul-smelling may also be a sign of kidney stones.
  4. Fever and chills indicating an infection is present.
  5. Frequent urination, as well as persistent need to urinate or urinating in small amounts.
  6. Nausea and vomiting – When accompanied by types of pain indicated above, this can be a strong sign of kidney stones.

Kidney Stone Symptoms Vary Between Men and Women

Just as males are more likely than females to develop kidney stones, they also feel symptoms differently.  It is thought that the differences in the male and female anatomy are the primary cause. Men feel the pain in their abdomen, lower back or groin region as the stone passes through the narrow ureter. It can also cause a dull, achy or throbbing pain in the upper abdomen similar to the sensation of gastric discomfort. Females, however, express their symptoms as menstrual cramps that escalate from dull aches to grimacing pain.

When to Seek Immediate Treatment from a Doctor

You may be experiencing one or more of the above symptoms and think, “Should I see a doctor? Are my symptoms that bad?” You should make an appointment with a urologist when you experience any of the above symptoms for an extended period of time and particularly if you start to experience any of the following:

  • Pain so extreme that it’s hard to move or get up
  • Blood in the urine
  • Nausea and vomiting from pain radiating from your right side
  • Fever and chills accompanying the pain
  • Difficulty passing urine

Why Seek Help from a Urologist

Your primary doctor can typically treat small kidney stones that don’t cause pain or block your kidney. However, if you experience severe pain and have large kidney stones, you will want to be referred to a urologist, a doctor that specializes in treating problems of the urinary tract.

Because there are several types of kidney stones with varying causes, a urologist can evaluate and determine the best courses of treatment. This may help prevent recurrence of the disease, which recurs within five years for 40 to 50 percent of those patients diagnosed.

If you are uncertain as to the severity of your condition, it is best to err on the side of caution and contact a urologist sooner than later.

What to Expect at Your Urology Appointment

Questions You May Be Asked

  1. Family or personal history of kidney stones. Do you have a history of kidney stones in your family or have you had kidney stones in the past? Heredity and having had kidney stones in the past both increase your risk of developing kidney stones.
  2. Evaluation of your diet. What is your diet like? A diet high in protein, sodium (salt) and sugar can increase your risk of kidney stones.
  3. Hydration. Do you drink enough water? Water helps dilute the substance in the urine that forms stones. Drinking enough fluid each day helps flush the kidneys, especially if you live in a warm, dry climate or sweat a lot.
  4. Medical history. Do you have other medical conditions or have you had surgeries that can increase your risk for kidney stones?
  5. Supplements and Medications. Do you take Vitamin C, excessive laxatives, depression or migraine medications, calcium-based antacids or other supplements/medications that are risk factors for developing kidney stones?

Diagnostics to Expect

Your urologist will conduct an imaging test to diagnose your specific type of kidney stones and to determine the exact cause(s) of the stone. This examination may include the following:

  • Some type of imaging such as an X-ray, CT scan or ultrasound
  • Urine analysis and/or basic blood work

Make the Appointment with a Urologist

While some patients who suffer from kidney stones visit their primary care physician (PCP) or go to the emergency room for acute treatment of pain, many patients benefit by seeing a urologist. The urologist specializes in identifying the root cause of their stones and outlining proper treatment management for the prevention of future attacks.

If you think your symptoms warrant a more in-depth evaluation, contact NJ Urology. It’s better to get an appointment early on rather than wait until the pain becomes unbearable

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