Common Kidney Stone Signs and Symptoms

What it feels like may depend on the stone's size and location and whether it's causing an infection.

Woman on toilet is crouching forward in pain because of her pain
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Kidney stones are hard masses that can develop in your kidneys. Calcium and other minerals in urine can crystalize, forming stones ranging in size from sand-like grains to small pebbles or even gravel-like chunks.¹

A variety of factors can lead to kidney stones. For instance, some research links high-dose vitamin C supplementation with an increased risk of kidney stones in men.² Use of antibiotics may also play a role.³ The biggest factor: Not staying hydrated.⁴

Maybe you're wondering: What does a kidney stone feel like? While stones are typically petite, passing them can lead to tremendous pain. But that's not the only symptom. Take a look at the most common signs of a kidney stone.

Common Signs and Symptoms

In some cases, small kidney stones may pass without pain.¹ But if kidney stones block the flow of urine or get lodged in the ureters—the narrow passageways where urine moves from the kidney to the bladder—they can cause an array of unpleasant side effects.

Pain

Kidney stone pain is often described as excruciating, matching or exceeding the pain that accompanies childbirth.

One small study asked women who'd been through childbirth to compare the pain of that experience with the pain of having a kidney stone blocking their urinary tract. A majority of the participants deemed the pain from a stone worse.⁵ In that same study, most men described the kidney stone as the worst pain they'd ever experienced, and most of them also believed the pain level was less than childbirth, or similar to it.⁵, ⁶

Kidney stone pain can feel like severe cramping or sharp pains.⁷ The pain can come in waves—severe one moment, weakening the next.⁴ And it can occur in several locations, including your belly, side of your back, and groin.⁸ Men may feel pain in their testicles or the tip of the penis, while women may experience pain in their labia.⁴, ⁷

Blood in Urine

If your urine departs from its usual yellow hue and is instead pink, red, or brown, that indicates the presence of blood in your urine. It is one of the common symptoms associated with kidney stones.⁶

Blood in urine is called hematuria. Sometimes this blood is visible to the naked eye, and other times it's only visible with a microscope. It can indicate a number of conditions, so this symptom alone doesn't necessarily indicate stones are present.⁶

Problems with Urination

When you have a kidney stone, you may experience changes in your urinary habits. These may include:

  • The need to go—a lot. Frequent urination is a common sign of a kidney stone.⁷
  • Difficulty urinating or being unable to urinate.
  • A burning pain sensation when you go.⁴
  • Urine that has a cloudy appearance—or smells bad.⁴

Nausea and Vomiting

Pain can occur in your belly, but nausea and vomiting are the only other GI-type symptoms that accompany a kidney stone.⁸ These symptoms are likely a reaction to the pain.⁹

Fever

A fever—often accompanied by chills—is another potential symptom of kidney stones. It's also an indicator that you may have a urinary tract infection.¹⁰

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Kidney stones are one of the most common reasons for visits to the emergency room.¹¹ Depending on its size and location, you may need treatment to remove or break up the stone as well as medicine for pain relief.

If your pain is not that severe, you might not feel like a trip is necessary, but if you do have symptoms, reach out to your healthcare provider. Along with your symptoms, your provider may order imaging tests such as ultrasounds and X-rays, along with blood and urine tests, to diagnose your condition.¹⁰

Recap

Kidney stones can cause pain and other unpleasant symptoms. While some stones pass on their own, others may require treatment, especially if a stone is blocking a ureter or you have signs of infection. See your healthcare provider if you suspect you have a stone.

Sources:

  1. American Kidney Fund. Kidney Stones: Causes, Treatments, Symptoms and Prevention.
  2. Ferraro, Pietro Manuel. Total, Dietary, and Supplemental Vitamin C Intake and Risk of Incident Kidney Stones American Journal of Kidney Diseases. 2016. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2015.09.005
  3. Shivan, Joshi. The use of antibiotics and risk of kidney stones. Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension. 2019. doi: 10.1097/MNH.0000000000000510
  4. MedlinePlus. Kidney Stones.
  5. Miah, Saiful. Renal colic and childbirth pain: female experience versus male perception. Journal of Pain Research. 2017. doi: 10.2147/JPR.S135901
  6. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease. Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Stones.
  7. American Urological Association. Kidney Stones.
  8. Fontanelle, Leonardo Ferreira. Diagnosis and Initial Management of Kidney Stones. Am Fam Physician. 2019;99(8):490-496American Family Physician. 2001.
  9. Nojaba, L Guzman N. Nephrolithiasis. In: StatPearls: [Internet]. Treasure Island, (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-.
  10. National Library of Medicine. Kidney Stones Overview.
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