The most common symptom of kidney stones is pain — which may be vague and mild at first — in the flanks, or the sides of the body between the ribs and pelvis, including the upper abdomen and lower back.
The pain often becomes sharp, severe, and colicky (comes in waves), as the muscles of the ureter (the urine tube connecting the kidneys and bladder) contract and relax around the stone.
The pain may move to the groin area or testicles as the kidney stone migrates through the urinary tract.
Other symptoms of kidney stones include:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Blood in the urine
- Urine that looks cloudy or smells bad
- Urine with an abnormal color (pink, red, or brown)
- Increased need to urinate
- Difficulty urinating
- Burning sensations while urinating
Complications of Kidney Stones
Some types of kidney stones, called struvite stones, are caused by urinary tract infections, including kidney infections.
But urinary tract infections, which are typically accompanied by fever and chills, are also a possible complication of kidney stone.
Both urinary tract and kidney infections can lead to sepsis — a potentially life-threatening, whole-body inflammatory condition that occurs when the body releases chemicals into the blood to fight an infection.
If a kidney stone causes severe symptoms or is unable to pass from the body normally, doctors may need to remove the stone using one of several techniques including:
- Shock wave lithotripsy, in which high-energy pressure waves from a machine break up the stone into smaller pieces
- Ureteroscopy, in which a thin tube is inserted into the urethra to remove or break up the stone
However, one in seven people experience complications from these procedures that require further hospitalization or emergency care, according to a 2014 report in the journal Surgery.
- Severe pain
- Sepsis (if preventative antibiotics aren’t given before the procedure)
- Bloody urine
Kidney Stones Diagnosis
To diagnosis a kidney stone, your doctor will begin by getting your medical and symptomatic history and giving you a physical exam.
Numerous other ailments, including gallstones, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and pancreatitis, can cause similar symptoms, so your doctor may perform tests to diagnose your condition.
Diagnostic tests include:
- Blood tests to check your body’s levels of kidney stone factors, including calcium, phosphorus, uric acid, and electrolytes
- Urine tests to look for stone-forming salt crystals, blood cells, infections, and stone factors
- Kidney function tests
- Imaging tests, including kidney ultrasounds, abdominal X-rays, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and intravenous pyelograms, a type of X-ray exam that involves injecting an X-ray dye into the body