Kidney Stone Pain – Location, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Relief
Kidney stones are also known as renal calculus, which simply means ‘kidney pebble’ in Latin. These stones are formed by the crystallization of minerals in the urine. These stones can be found in the urethra, bladder or the kidney itself. Calcium is the one that causes the formation of these stones. Men are the most affected by kidney stones and form about 80% of the patients with these stones.
Kidney stones are formed in the urine, and they are normally lost in the urine without causing any problems. However, if the stones grow to a certain diameter, they can cause blockage of the urethra. This leads to the dilation and distention of the pelvis and the urethra may also spasm. This will cause a lot of pain, usually in the flank, groin, or lower abdomen. The kidney stones cause renal colic, which is very painful, and can last for up to an hour at a time. Some stones will not cause any pain, even if the obstruction is noticed, and in these cases, doctors simply wait for the stone to pass. However, when pain is extreme, doctors will manage the pain, and see how best to get the stone to pass. There are cases where the doctors may need to perform surgery.
What are the causes of kidney stones?
Kidney stones are caused by dietary factors which include eating foods high in protein, sugar, apple juice, grape juice, and all forms of refined sugar. The main component of these stones is calcium oxalate. For those who have to supplement the calcium in their diet, the risk is much higher. However, this would not be a great problem if people took plenty of fluids when they have such a diet. This would lead to the formation of dilute urine, and stop the stones from forming. Dietary calcium usually binds the oxalate in the intestines, and this reduces the amount that is absorbed into the blood stream. However, supplemental calcium does not do this. When the oxalate gets to the kidneys, it is bound by calcium and this will cause the stones to form. Other electrolytes that promote the formation of these stones are fluorine, potassium, magnesium, among many others.
Kidney Stone Pain Location and Symptoms
Typically kidney stones that are found in the renal pelvis and urethra cause a lot of pain. This is standard but the severity of the pain may vary. The pain usually begins at the flank (area between the ribs and the hip), and spreads to the groin and inner thigh area. This pain as mentioned, is medically known as renal colic and is said to be extremely painful. The patient will also have urinary urgency, a lot of sweating, have blood in the urine, pus in the urine, nausea and vomiting. The pain can last for up to an hour and is usually caused by the involuntary convulsions of the urethra, as it tries to expel the stone.
What is the diagnosis of kidney stones?
The doctor will ask for your history, as well as perform a physical examination. The doctor will also need a urinalysis and radiographic test. The location and the severity of the pain will give the doctor a clinical basis to diagnose kidney stones. The doctor may also find signs of fever, especially if you are getting colicky pains.
Since the stones are dense, they will appear clearly in most imaging scans. CT scans are the best since they can detect all types of stones whether they are oxalates, phosphates, etc.
The doctor will also ask for urinalysis, which is done in the lab to see the presence of certain compounds in the urine. The urine will also have bacteria and this will help in knowing if there is a secondary infection that needs to be treated. They will also test for the level of calcium in the urine, and see if this is the reason why the stones formed.
What is the treatment of kidney stones?
In most cases, the doctors simply wait for the stone to pass. Where pain is present, the doctors will prescribe pain medication and still wait for the stones to pass. However, if the blockage is extreme, then they may perform invasive surgery.
If the size of kidney stones is small, say less than 5mm, you do not require specialized treatment. Just drinking as much as 2 to 2.9 liters of water per day should cleanse your system. If there is mild pain, the doctor may also suggest pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. There is another type of medication called alpha blocker, which helps the ureter muscles ease out the kidney stones faster through urine.
If the size of kidney stones is more on the larger side, say from 5 to 10mm, the doctor will have to embark on a procedure called extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) which utilizes sound energy to initiate strong vibrations that break the stones into little pieces that can be easily passed through the urine. There can be discomfort in the hour long process which is why some doctors prefer to administer light anesthesia during the procedure.
If SWL is not effective or if the stone is large enough, the doctor may use a surgical process called percutaneous nephrolithomy which involves removing kidney stones through tiny telescopes and medical instruments that are inserted by making a small opening in the back. The operation is done under general anesthesia and the patient may have to be in the hospital for a day or two.
Preventing Kidney Stones
The best way to treat this condition is to manage it well. You should take a lot of fluids to prevent the formation of concentrated urine. Check the color of your urine, if it light and clear, it means the fluid intake is close to accurate. You should also watch what you eat, and avoid foods that are high in animal protein, and those that will exacerbate the problem. Check with the doctor on foods that you have to avoid for your specific condition.
While calcium in foods do not cause kidney stones, calcium supplements do. Follow the doctor’s advice on calcium supplements and ask him/her about the risk attached to kidney stones.