Why Kidney Stones Are So Painful and How To Treat and Prevent Them
Some people say there is a pain worse than childbirth: kidney stones. But is that fact or fiction? Kidney stones form when stone-forming substances – like calcium, oxalate, or uric acid build up too much in the urine without enough water to flush them out.
Once it has formed, it can’t stay in the body. It either has to pass on its own or be removed.
If it is small enough, your doctor will have you follow the “watch and wait” method to see if it moves along your urinary tract on its own. This is not a fun process; in fact, it can feel pretty miserable.
If it is too large, your doctor will either use medical intervention to break it up into tiny pieces so they can pass on their own, or he or she will surgically remove the stone.
No matter the scenario, you will unfortunately be in pain. And yes, the pain really can be intensely severe.
I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about kidney stone pain. Where you’ll feel it, when you’ll feel it, how long it will last, how to make it better, and what to do if it becomes unmanageable.
The more you know, the better you can make decisions on what to do about it.
The #1 Kidney Stone Symptom
Without a doubt, the most predominant symptom of a kidney stone is pain. And most of the time – it is intense pain.
There are a few common places where you will most likely feel that pain:
- In the side below the ribs
- In the back below the ribs
- In the lower abdomen
- In the groin
- When urinating
There are other medical conditions that could cause pain in these regions. So it is important to go to your doctor and confirm that it is in fact a kidney stone. At that appointment they can tell you if you should try passing it on your own, or if you will need medical treatment.
Timing Of Kidney Stone Pain
Sometimes kidney stone pain will be worse at certain times of the day.
Though this is not a hard and fast rule, kidney stone pain is often worst late at night or early morning.
This is because you have not been urinating regularly as you sleep. The ureter becomes constricted, making it a smaller space for the kidney stone to pass through.
Though you can technically experience pain at any time – and it may be worse for you at entirely different times of the day – this pattern is still something you should be aware of.
Do All Kidney Stone Types Cause Pain?
Not all kidney stones are exactly the same. There are four main types of kidney stones:
- Calcium stones: This is the most common type of kidney stone in which calcium and oxalate join
- Struvite stones: These often come after an infection, most commonly a UTI
- Uric Acid stones: Uric acid is a waste product that is normally just fine, but when you have too much, they can turn into stones
- Cystine stones: Normally only people with an heredity disorder develop cystine stones; they occur when you excrete too many amino acids
Though they are made up of different substances and will most likely be different shapes, they all will cause similar pain as they move through your urinary tract.
How Long Will You Feel Kidney Stone Pain?
If the kidney stone is small enough to pass on its own, it will take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks to finally get out of the body. If it has taken longer than a few weeks, you should talk to your doctor.
Normally, medical professionals will not allow them to stick around for longer than 6 weeks at the most.
During the time you are passing the kidney stone, you may feel the pain on and off. For example, the pain may be really severe as the stone passes through the ureters.
Then it may go away in the bladder and come back once it is in the urethra.
Other people will have pain the entire time, but the intensity will most likely vary. Sometimes the pain feels manageable; other times it may feel excruciating.
If your doctor has chosen to break up the kidney stone through shock wave therapy, the pieces should be able to pass within a couple days.
If the kidney stone is removed through surgery, you will no longer be dealing with the pain of the kidney stone. But you will have to deal with the pain of recovery. Most of the time it takes weeks to recover and get back to work.
Why Are Kidney Stones So Painful?
Kidney stones start at your kidneys, travel down your ureters, enter your bladder, and finally go through your urethra and into the toilet.
None of these parts of your urinary tract are very large – especially your ureters, which are only about 3 to 4 mm in diameter and 10 to 12 inches long.
Considering kidney stones can normally pass on their own if they are around 5mm or smaller, those ureters are quite tiny.
So when it comes to the ureters, a kidney stone has about a foot’s length to travel down an extremely narrow tube. This is why so much pain can be felt during the ureter phase.
Of course, the stone passing can hurt during other phases too. These are not soft, perfectly round balls. Oftentimes kidney stones are rough and jagged.
What Happens When The Pain Becomes Too Much?
We all now know that kidney stone pain can be really difficult. But if the pain becomes more than you can handle, it is possible that you have developed an infection. For instance, the pain may prevent you from being able to sit still.
If this happens to you, call your doctor for an appointment immediately.
Other signs of infection include:
- Fever and chills
- Difficulty passing urine
- Nausea and vomiting
If you don’t have an infection, your doctor should be able to prescribe you a stronger pain medication. Or he or she may move on to medical intervention to either break down or remove the kidney stone.
How To Treat and Prevent Kidney Stone Pain
Once you have been diagnosed with a stone and the doctor tells you to try and pass it on your own, you will have to mentally accept that you will be in pain for days to weeks.
Then you can try these four ways to help lessen the pain and speed up the passing process:
- Use Pain Medication: Your doctor may prescribe a strong pain reliever to help you through the kidney stone passing process; others may recommend an over-the-counter pain reliever
- Prescription Alpha Blockers: These medications will relax your ureter muscles, so the kidney stone can pass through the hardest part with less pain
- Take Chanca Piedra: This all-natural herb can actually help treat a kidney stone and make it pass more quickly
- Drink Plenty of Water: Water will help flush out the stone more quickly and easily
Are All Kidney Stones Painful?
I know we have talked non-stop about pain, pain, and pain. But the truth is not all kidney stones will be painful. Some kidney stones are small enough that they pass without you ever realizing you had one.
Keep in mind that kidney stones can be as small as a grain of sand. This is why they can pass through undetected.
Other Kidney Stone Symptoms
Before we finish, it is important for me to tell you about the other kidney stone symptoms you may have alongside the pain.
Not everyone will have the same exact kidney stone experience. Whether your stone is large or small and where it is located in the urinary tract can lead to different symptoms. But it is fairly common to have symptoms similar to a urinary tract infection. This includes:
- Pain or burning during urination
- Frequent need to urinate, though little comes out each time
- Blood in the urine (often this means it looks pink, red, or brown)
- Cloudy urine
- Foul-smelling/different-smelling urine
Know that these symptoms along with side pain could mean a kidney infection instead of a kidney stone. So any time you have these problems, you should make an appointment with your doctor to get an exact diagnosis.
Preventing Kidney Stones and the Pain
Once you have gone through the process of passing a kidney stone and feeling that horrible pain, you will never want to deal with it again. But the bad news is once you have one, you are likely to have another.
Fortunately, you still do have some control in the matter. Here are a few tips for preventing kidney stones:
- Limit the amount of oxalate-rich foods (if you get the common calcium-oxalate stones): This includes spinach, sweet potatoes, nuts, chocolate, beets and soy products
- Do not take calcium supplements (but still eat calcium-rich foods)
- Limit animal protein
- Limit high-purine foods (if you have the less-common uric acid stones): This includes game meats, organ meats, and many fish choices like anchovies, sardines, or mackerel
- Limit sugar and salt
- Stay hydrated every single day (you may need to up water intake and also limit caffeine/alcohol consumption)
As you can see, knowing what type of stone you had will help guide you in some of your preventative diet choices. That is one of the reasons it is important to collect your kidney stone. Follow your doctor’s instructions. He or she may want you to use a strainer when you urinate.
Dealing With Your Kidney Stone Pain
Kidney stone pain may be intense, but it will not last forever.
Utilize pain medication and make sure to stay in close communication with your doctor.
Then when it passes, make the lifestyle shifts you need to stay stone free.