Do I have a kidney stone? How to tell if it’s an emergency.
At Urology Austin, education is a crucial part of our service to patients. Making an appointment to diagnose certain conditions isn’t always advised, however, sometimes a kidney stone emergency exists and emergency care is the best option.
What is a kidney stone?
Kidney stones are a type of crystal that is formed by substances in urine. Kidney stones can cause pain, infection and even kidney damage. When a kidney stone forms, it may travel from the kidney down one of the ureters – thin tubes that carry urine from the kidney to the bladder.
The stones start small, but can grow large enough to fill the entire kidney if not detected early. Kidney stones are very common among both men and women, but children can also get them, although it is rare. Stones are especially common in southern states, like Texas, that have prolonged, warmer climates.
If you are experiencing pain and suspect that the source may be a kidney stone, please read the symptom checker below to decide your next step.
Do I have a kidney stone?
Here is a list of common symptoms associated with kidney stones:
- Severe pain – Many describe this pain as the worst they have ever experienced.
- Pain in flank and back – Kidney stones can cause excruciating pain in the flank (side of the body between the ribs and hip), and/or the back – Pain can start in the upper back and then migrate to the abdomen and groin.
- Changing positions doesn’t help – Kidney stone pain is primarily due to blockage of the urinary track, meaning you can’t alleviate it by moving or changing position.
- Pain accompanied by other symptoms – Nausea, vomiting, hematuria (blood in the urine), as well as fever are all common when someone is having a kidney stone episode.
- Pain comes in waves – The stone periodically blocks the urinary track as it makes its way out, meaning the pain often moves down the body.
Should I go to the emergency room to treat my kidney stones?
You may be experiencing a kidney stone emergency if you’re experiencing the following:
- A fever above 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Burning during urination.
- Cloudy or foul smelling urine.
- Persistent nausea and vomiting.
- Intolerable pain.
- Certain medical conditions that can make passing a stone potentially more dangerous: having only one kidney, diabetes or decreased kidney function.
By themselves, these conditions may not be pointing to a kidney stone emergency. However, an evaluation is recommended. If you do suspect a kidney stone, a trip to an emergency room is advisable, especially if you are experiencing intense, uncontrollable pain. At the hospital, doctors can make the diagnosis and provide treatment for an active kidney stone. Imaging such as x-rays, or a CT scan, will confirm if a stone is present.
What kind of treatment is available for kidney stones?
Treatment options for kidney stones include:
- Allowing the stone to pass by itself.
- Using medications to help the stone pass.
- Surgery to treat or remove a stone.
Treatment options are based on the size of the kidney stone, and its location, within the urinary system. In general, stones less than 5 millimeters in size have a 50% chance of passing out of the body with conservative therapy alone. Kidney stones that are larger than 5 mm are often treated surgically.
If you don’t meet the criteria to go to the emergency room, but still suspect you might have a kidney stone, please contact us to make an appointment.