COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Update

Loyola Medicine is resuming select health care services. Learn more about resumption of services.

Illustration of kidney stones

Signs You May Have Kidney Stones

 

 Loyola Medicine urologist Kristin Baldea, MDBy Kristin Baldea, MD, Urology

Kidney stones are hardened deposits of minerals, salts and other natural substances that develop inside the kidneys. Kidney stones develop when minerals that are filtered by the kidneys become concentrated.

The minerals collect inside your kidneys where urine is formed. Over time, these minerals can form stones that be as small as a grain of sand or as large as a golf ball.

At first, kidney stones usually don’t cause symptoms, especially if they aren’t moving inside the kidney. However, once they pass into the ureter (the tubes that deliver urine from the kidneys to the bladder), you may notice several symptoms.

This happens because the stone can block the flow of urine from the kidney to the bladder. Below are some of the most common signs of kidney stones to look out for.

Severe Pain

Pain is the number one indicator of a kidney stone. This discomfort is caused when the kidney stone is moving around the kidney or through the ureters.

Such pain may take several forms, including:

  • Pain in the groin or lower abdomen
  • Pain that comes and goes in severity (many liken this to labor pains)
  • Pain while urinating
  • Sharp pain along your side and back, usually just below your ribs

Because pain in your abdomen is a symptom associated with many conditions, it's always a good idea to check with your doctor if you are experiencing this type of pain so they can give you a better diagnosis.

You will especially want to see your doctor if the pain prevents you from sitting down, causes vomiting or makes you feel feverish.

Changes to Urination

If kidney stones are blocking the ureters, you may begin to see changes in your urination habits. These can go unnoticed at first, but they can quickly escalate to something you can’t ignore.

Common changes include:

  • Feeling like you need to urinate all the time, even if you just finished
  • Only having a small amount of urine when you urinate
  • Urinating more frequently than you usually do
  • Urine that is brown, red or pink (a sign that blood is in the urine)
  • Urine that smells bad or looks cloudy

You may recognize that some of these symptoms are the same as having a urinary tract infection. That’s why, if you’re suddenly having any of these problems, you should schedule a visit with your doctor.

Urinary tract infections require antibiotics for treatment, so if you just assume you have kidney stones without seeking treatment, you could be putting yourself at risk.

Other Symptoms

There are a few other symptoms you might experience with kidney stones. These include:

  • Chills and fever
  • Nausea and vomiting

In some cases, nausea might be a side effect of the pain; however, it can also be a sign of an infection. Fever and chills are also signs of an infection.

If you do have an infection, you may need surgery to drain the kidney immediately so the infection doesn’t spread.

Prevention

There are some things you can do to prevent kidney stones from forming:

  • Drinking fluids, especially water, is the most effective way to prevent stones. You should drink 2 to 3 liters of fluids per day. You may need more when the weather is hot or if you exercise a lot.
  • Increase vegetables, fruits and fiber in your diet, reduce animal protein (chicken, fish, beef) and reduce your sodium intake.
  • Maintain a health weight.

Seek Medical Attention

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with a Loyola Medicine physician right away.

While most stones pass on their own, larger kidney stones can damage the urinary system and cause severe pain.

Depending on the location and size of your stone, your doctor will be able to recommend treatments to help you pass the stones on your own or schedule a procedure to help remove problematic stones that are unlikely to pass.

Kristin Baldea, MD, is a urologist at Loyola Medicine. Her clinical interests include kidney stones, kidney cancer, minimally invasive urologic surgery and prostate cancer.

Dr. Baldea earned her medical degree at Northwestern University. She completed her residency in urology and fellowship in endourology and laparoscopy at Loyola University Medical Center.

You can make an appointment to see Dr. Baldea today by calling 888-584-7888 or visiting our Virtual Care page.