Kidney Stones are extremely painful. Most of the time, the only way to relieve the colic pain is to go to a hospital emergency room. Here's what to know about the pain, causes, and possible treatments.
My experience with kidney stones; the pain and the emergency room visit
Note: This is a personal account of my experience. This is rather a lengthy read, so if you're not interested in the work-up, you can skip over this part. I won't be offended! And this is a true account. This is in my words and actually happened to me. So I felt the need to share my personal experience.
I clearly remember the morning of my birthday. I awoke from a rather good sleep with a sharp pain in my back. It was 4:45 am, and what a wake up call it was! The pain was so excruciating it was the most pain I've ever experienced to this day. Since I was off of work that particular day (thank goodness it was the Christmas season), I decided to go and see my doctor to find out what the problem was.
Once I was seen by my doctor, he asked if I had any other problems and after telling him my symptoms, which were basically a really bad back ache, he diagnosed me with having a pinched nerve in my back. He sent me home with Meloxicam which is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). I had not known that Meloxicam was an NSAID at the time, but after finding out, I wasn't able to take it. My stomach is very gentle, and after I had taken an Aleve tablets around 10 years ago, it caused me severe gastrointestinal distress. So I'm not allowed to have NSAID's. I would have to resort to Tylenol or acetaminophen to help my pain.
I went about my day. I ate some lunch, and went home. However, at around 5:45 pm in the evening I start to have extreme sharp pains in my lower back and towards the front side of the abdomen and my flank area. This pain was so intense that I could not lie down nor sit down without feeling pain. There was no way to get comfortable. This, I knew, something was definitely wrong.
I asked my father to drive me to the emergency room at our local hospital. While there, we had to wait a long time. I should have known to have said to go to another hospital, though this was about 13 miles away, and in traffic, it could take about 45 more minutes up to an hour in traffic. And the pain was getting to me so I decided to stay put....even though I had to wait.
When they finally called my name, they took my vital signs first (weight, blood pressure and pulse). They then asked about my pain and symptoms. I told them all what I was experiencing. I mentioned the stabbing pain in my back and how uncomfortable it was.
Because of the workload in the emergency room, they took this down, and I had to wait outside again for a free bed. While waiting outside, I just could not get comfortable sitting in a chair. The pain was stabbing, and I was not able to just sit still without writhing in pain. This pain was very unbearable. Since the chair I was sitting on was outside of the actual emergency room lobby, I noticed that there was a long bench about 15 feet away. I went there, and had to lie down on the bench to relieve that pain. While laying there, the coolness of the evening and just by being in that position helped a little. Or, it could have been that some of the pain was subsiding. In either case, if I were left there for another 10 minutes or so, I think I would have fallen asleep. But that does not mean that my pain was any calmer.
It was finally my turn to get into the emergency room to be seen by an ER doctor. The doctor listened to what I had to say and immediately from what I explained and my actions, he told me that he thinks that I may have a kidney stone and it was trying to pass. He didn't want to diagnose it yet, as he wanted to be sure, so he wanted to conduct some tests to confirm.
He ordered a urine sample from me and also a blood draw. He also told me that he was going to give me some medication to ease the pain I was experiencing. He said he was going to give me a low dose of morphine along with a anti-nausea medication to counteract the effects of the morphine.
The first thing that I did was go to the bathroom so I could give them a sample of my urine. When I was urinating, I noticed that the color was quite dark and almost a light brown in color. This indicated that there was probably blood present in my urine. I was immediately shocked. Imagine blood coming out of you from the inside. I capped on the lid for the container that had my urine sample and put it on the specimen table for the lab person to analyze. I had not paid much attention earlier in the day as to the color of my urine.
After that, I had an IV line put into my arm. While doing so, they took around 3 vials of blood to do lab work on. They gave me a anti-nausea medication while they had the IV line in my arm.
Since the hospital was so busy that evening with multiple cases, I went back outside in the waiting room again and when they receive a bed, I'd be called back in to be treated.
My wait wasn't too long, probably about a 10-minutes wait. They took me in to my bed, which was in a hallway.
While there, the nurse came and attached an IV drip. She then injected the morphine into me so I could be relieved of the pain and get some sort of comfort. I immediately began to feel the effect of the morphine ease the pain that I was feeling. I can honestly say that the morphine was doing its job.
My doctor later came to check on me to ask how things were going. He decided to order a CT scan in order to look at my kidney, ureter, and bladder (KUB) to find out if there were any stones in my passageways.
I went in a wheelchair to the radiology section of the hospital and received my CT scan. Shortly thereafter, about 15 minutes later, my doctor came to see me again and said that he saw 3 mm stone in my ureter.
He also noted that I had hematuria which is blood in your urine and also swollen right Kidney.
He later noted that what I would have to do is filter my urine when I got home to see if I could pass the stone and catch it. He said to help me out, he would give me a medication called Flomax so this would open up the bladder as to have a bigger opening so the stone could pass down the ureter. He sent me home with an anti-nausea pill and also along with a narcotic pain medication.
In closing, my bill for this painful experience to the emergency room and all the treatment and tests I received amounted to around $6,700. This also included medications and my follow up Urologist visit.
What to do when you have a kidney stone attack?
An attack can happen at ANY TIME. Usually, it'll be the most inconvenient time and day for you.
When you have an attack, I honestly suggest going to the emergency room. Unless your pain is mild, and generally it is not, the ER is the only way to know what is going on (if you've never had an episode before), as well as to receive some relief for the pain. Yes, it is THAT severe and painful. Unless you have a high tolerance for pain, I believe that most people will go to the ER.
And that is where many find out that there is a kidney stone. For people who don't understand and think this is just really bad back pain? You will actually have to experience this to really know what it feels like and to sympathize with others whom have experienced it. It's a pain you'll never want to have again. And a pain you won't ever forget. Can you escape the ER? Highly unlikely.
Now, if you just so happen to have leftover pain medications around, you could potentially take this during an episode to ease that pain. However, it is greatly recommended to make an appointment with your primary car physician and/or urologist to seek what the problem is.
When to seek help of a doctor or emergency room
You should seek the help of a doctor or emergency room if you experience any of the following major symptoms:
- Severe pain in your side, abdomen, groin, or genitals. It may get worse in waves.
- Blood in your urine.
- Signs of a urinary tract infection.
If you have any of the following symptoms (below) in addition to the ones above, seek medical attention promptly:
- Severe nausea or vomiting.
- Fever and chills.
- Severe pain in your side in the area of your kidney (flank pain).
How can you prevent a kidney stone from happening again?
The general agreement with most doctors and websites is that the most simple thing you can do to prevent kidney stones is to simply DRINK WATER. Drinking water is essential and the key in preventing stone formation (as this potentially keeps the urine diluted). Along with this is a modified diet. Try a variety of foods. If you have a generally high intake of salt (>2,400mg/day), you may want to cut back. This is generally easy for many to do, however, if you eat out and frequent fast food restaurants, this could be difficult. Excess salt may cause stones. If you have a high protein diet (meat, poultry, eggs, nuts), this is also a known cause in stone formation. Everything should be taken in moderation. But the key is to keep hydrated throughout the day
As a personal account to what I think potentially could have happened to me in causing my stone was an abundance of theories:
- I wasn't drinking enough water throughout the day. In some cases, not even drinking with my meal. And conversely,
- Not going to the bathroom to urinate enough. Could you believe that I was only using the bathroom 3 times a day? Because of this,
- My urine was dark yellow, strong smelling and concentrated. It often smelled strong and of the food that I've eaten prior.
- I was living a rather sedentary lifestyle. I work in an office and sit at my desk all day long. I rarely got up to take a walk or breaks.
- If it was the weekend, after eating, I would just take a nap. All the food probably was sitting in my stomach and not digesting as fast.
How do you get a kidney stone? Risk Factors
There are many risk factors that can increase your chance of developing kidney stones. This includes:
- Race: White
- Sex: Male
- Age: 20 to 50 years old
- Geographic location (residents of the Southeast United States have an increased risk because if a higher likelihood of being dehydrated).
- Family members who have had kidney stones or gout
- Previous kidney stones that had formed
- Taking excess doses of calcium supplements or vitamin C
- Pregnancy (if you're a female)
- Fasting for a period of time
- Other medical conditions, including:
- Kidney disease
- Overactive parathyroid
- Chronic diarrhea
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Immobility, paralysis, being bedridden (sedentary lifestyle)
- Medications, including some AIDS medications,chemotherapy drugs, diuretics (like Lasix), and antacids (such as TUMS)
- Previous intestinal bypass surgery
- Reduced fluid intake or increased fluid loss in hot weather (dehydration)
- Urinary tract obstruction or failure to empty the bladder (holding it in)
- Foreign material in the urinary tract (eg, catheter)
What are known Causes of Kidney Stones?
Some of the known causes include:
- Chemotherapy (ie, uric acid stone)
- Too much oxalate in urine (hyperoxaluria)
- Too little magnesium in urine (hypomagnesemia)
- Too much calcium in the urine (hypercalciuria)
- Too much calcium in the blood (hypercalcemia)
- Too little citrate in the urine (hypocitraturia)
- Bacteria around which a stone can form
- Too much uric acid in the urine (hyperuricuria, gout)
- Bacteria that produce enzymes that increase the amount of ammonia and struvite in the urine
- Inherited abnormality in the way the body handles cystine
- Certain medications (such as indinavir )
- Foreign bodies in the urinary tract, such as stents or catheters
- Retention of urine
Are there medications that can cause kidney stones?
There have been some medications that have been known to cause and promote kidney stones in some patients. Some of these are:
- Ephedrine-which is found in some drugs that is used to treat asthma and congestion.
- Triamterene-This is a drug that is sometimes used to treat high blood pressure.
- Antacids (Magnesium containing)-used for heartburn, mainly.
- Sulfamethoxazole-Trimethoprim-which is used to treat certain types of infections.
- Topiramate-Used to treat seizures.
- Carbonic Anhydrase Inhibitors-which is used to treat galucoma.
- Furosemide-used to treat high blood pressure or fluid retention in the body.
- Vitamin C, Vitamin D in EXCESS
What are the Symptoms you may see or experience with kidney stones?
Occasionally, kidney stones do not cause symptoms. They leave the body in the urine and you'd be lucky not to have experienced the excruciating pain. And with this easy case, some don't even know they have it. The condition, though, can cause severe pain. The pain occurs when the stone hits against the ureter walls. Most stones are jagged. And most stones are larger than the ureter, hence the pain you feel.
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the mid-back that may occur every few minutes and last from 20 minutes to one hour
- Pain in the lower abdomen and groin area, labia, or testicles
- Inability to get into a comfortable position. If your on a bed lying down, it's difficult to find the right spot. It's not uncommon for sufferers of kidney stones to pace the floor (walking back and forth).
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Blood in the urine
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Burning pain during urination
- Urinary tract infection
Sometimes, there is an infection present with a kidney stone. These symptoms include:
- Fever and chills
- Painful urination
- Cloudy or foul smelling urine
How to prevent kidney stones
Once you have formed a kidney stone, it is unfortunate that studies have shown that you are more likely to form another within the next 5-10 years from the first onset. Here are some steps to try to prevent this condition:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. The BEST fluid you can drink is WATER.
- Talk to your doctor about what diet is right for you. Depending on the type of stone you have formed, you may be told to:
- Avoid apple and grapefruit juices.
- Drink more cranberry juice or to NOT drink this juice.
- Avoid foods high in oxalate, such as spinach, nuts, and chocolate.
- Eat less meat, fish, and poultry. These foods increase urine acidity.
- Decrease your sodium intake, especially if you have calcium stones.
- Increase your intake of magnesium (as found by some studies)
- Increase your intake of Vitamin B6 (also found by some studies)
- Drink lemonade daily (fresh squeezed is recommended)
- Increase your fiber intake.
- Watch your sugar intake.
- Lose weight if you are overweight.
- If you have an enlarged parathyroid gland, you may need to have it removed surgically.
- Medicines prescribed may include:
- Drugs that control the amount of acid in the urine
- Allopurinol or sodium cellulose phosphate—to treat urine high in calcium
- Hydrochlorothiazide (a diuretic)—to treat urine high in calcium
- Thiola—to reduce the amount of cystine in the urine
This page has more elaborate descriptions on Getting Rid of Kidney Stones.
What do kidney stones look like? Photos:
This website has very interesting pictures of the various types of kidneys stones. It's worth taking a look at.
Brief video on Kidney Stones
Kidney Stone symptoms and treatment options explained
Kidney stone Pain
If I had to describe the pain, I'd say it was very severe. Not like any other pain that I've ever experienced in my entire life. People say it's comparable to giving birth to a child, and I'm a male, so I wouldn't know, but there are some that say its worse than childbirth. All I can say is, the pain is unbearable and excruciating. I felt like a knife was being stabbed in my back multiple times and just constantly stabbing at me with no end in sight. You try to lie down, but it doesn't work. It provides no comfort at all. The pain that I felt was on my lower back. In the area where your hips are located. See the picture located to the right for an illustration on where the pain is located.
Kidney Stone, Ureter Stone
A kidney stone develops in the kidneys. Once it descends down the ureter, it's a kidney stone which has now become a ureter stone. They say that once the stone arrives to the bladder, you shouldn't feel any pain at all.
In conclusion, there isn't a clear cut and defined way to prevent kidney stones from happening or reoccurring. Much of what is studied is the link between diet and fluid consumption. Some people get a kidney stone by simply not drinking enough and hydrating. Some don't urinate as often, which causes crystals to form. And some just overindulge in oxalate rich foods.
But what about someone you know that has eating chocolate, nuts or spinach every day? Why don't they get kidney stones? That's a great question! Some people are more predisposed to get them compared to others. Maybe they are supplementing with keeping well hydrated. Maybe they're getting enough other nutrients that are preventing the stones from forming. Every person is unique and different.
The key here is to take what you see and read on the internet with a grain of salt. Much of what is out there is hogwash. You get conflicts in all aspects of what you can or cannot eat. What you should drink, what you should do, etc. Don't fall for this. If you have kidney stones, please seek the help of a doctor or your healthcare specialist. They are the MOST qualified to tell you EXACTLY what to do. Reading people's experiences is enlightening, however, it's not a prescription for everyone. Just because a doctor told a person to drink lemon juice, does not mean it will work for you. The same with oxalates. This does not mean you should avoid it. Tests that a doctor will order is what will be the definitive thing to count on and not information that you just read off of the internet.
While writing this, I took into account of my specific experience. Yours may vary. In my information provided, I took into account of what I read off of numerous sites and what was stated. I eliminated hogwash and if there was a conflict, stated it here.
© 2013 jaydawg808
Fred on September 17, 2014:
Have had 32 stones I was certain of, either by passing them, having them surgically removed, or able to track intractable pain along the normal low back side to lower flank to groin and deep groin. I do not count occurnces where pain is only in one location and for limited period of time without recurrence. I have no idea how many I've actually had which have generated some symptoms, but I'm sure it's much higher than this number - not to mention silent stones. In my history, now 34 years I'd had these stones, the first half-dozen were the worst, each requiring hospitalization, each with a pain level of 10 - except for the one I rated a 12 because they could not give me enough morphine to take the edge off, and I finally went into shock and thought I was going to die - that was probably the worst. (That was the first one I had surgically removed). Was looking up typical pain locations as I've got a new one now, and it seems deeper in the back than I normally feel, this being after I've felt deep in the groin, Nomrally, if I'm going to feel in the back, that's always when it's higher in the ureter. When it his the junction just about the bladder (the narrowest point in the journey through the ureter and where the most frequently get stuck and cause severe pain, it's generally all groin pain, even pain in the urethra and down through the penis at times. My inderstanding is that this is in part due to the fact that are the embryo devlops all these points were originally very close together when the nervous system was developing, so as they spread out as the body grew, the locations the sensations map to got spread out and don't directly correspond to where the stone is actually stuck. A type of referred pain so to speak.
JINKEE on July 10, 2014:
HELPFUL & USEFUL INFORMATION. THANK YOU FOR SHARING
Tim on May 14, 2014:
Hi. I am a female with two episodes of kidney stones. It started with my left kidney then years after, it happened to my right. In my case it is a case of hereditary. Appreciate this blog very much. Voted up.
ARUN KANTI CHATTERJEE from KOLKATA on February 20, 2013:
Useful hub. Now with the advent of Lithotripsy surgical process is easier by using high energy shocks to pulverise the stones. Thanks for sharing.
Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on February 20, 2013:
Interesting story and the video provided a great explanation of the difficulties. The pain is excruciating and worse if doctors misdiagnose the situation. I was referred to a GYN and a gastroenterologist before finding the proper doctor who discovered the real issue. Surgery was required in my case but relief was immediate. Thanks for sharing this important topic.
torrilynn on February 20, 2013:
Very interesting. I never knew the whole story behind kidney stones actually. I remember a former friend of mind having kidney stones and telling me how it hurt like hell. Thanks. Voted up.
C L Grant from United Kingdom on February 20, 2013:
I have 2 family members who have also experienced kidney stones and both said that the pain was unimaginable. One was an Aunt who, as DzyMsLizzy has already commented upon, said that the pain was worse than childbirth.
Living in the UK, the one thing that always flabbergasts me is the cost of your medical treatment and I hope you were suitably insured. It's something we rarely have to consider in this country.
Excellent and informative hub. Voted up and keep drinking the water!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on February 19, 2013:
Well done. I recognized the problem and symptoms second-hand. Both my current husband and my ex had experiences with these monstrosities. They were, indeed, in terrible pain. My current hubby has a very, very high pain tolerance, and yet the pain was so bad he passed out, and had to be taken by ambulance to the ER.
The doctor did tell my husband that the reason they hurt is partially the blockage, but more because they are irregular in shape (as seen in your illustration), and the rough edges scrape the ureter, hence the blood in the urine. I hope you never have another episode.
Just as your references say, they are more common in men, but women who've had them will report the pain as far worse than childbirth. Knock on wood, I've never had any, and never in the future will be too soon...
Voted up, interesting, useful and shared.
Pamela Dapples from Arizona now on February 19, 2013:
Voting up, interesting and useful. I know a little bit about kidney stones first hand and never want to go through that kind of pain again. It's great that you explained what can cause them and what the symptoms are.
strkngfang on January 04, 2013:
Very good hub, voted up! I've had kidney & bladder stones, the bladder stones had to be surgically removed, although I did pass some of the smaller ones, still very painful, especially to a man. I drink at least 16 oz of cranberry juice a day and 80 oz of water and have been stone free for 5 yrs now. Water is the key and a good rule of thumb is to drink half your weight in ounces daily. So if you weigh 130 lbs, you need at least 65 oz a day. Water is and always will be your bodies natural purification system.