What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are a hard collection of salt and minerals often made up of calcium or uric acid. They form inside the kidney and can travel to other parts of the urinary tract.
Stones vary in size. Some are as small as the period at the end of this sentence — a fraction of an inch. Others can grow to a few inches across. Some kidney stones can become so large they take up the whole kidney.
A kidney stone forms when too much of certain minerals in your body accumulate in your urine. When you aren’t well hydrated, your urine becomes more concentrated with higher levels of certain minerals. When mineral levels are higher, it’s more likely that a kidney stone will form.
Kidney stone pain — also known as renal colic — is one of the most severe types of pain imaginable. Some people who’ve experienced kidney stones compare the pain to childbirth or getting stabbed with a knife. The pain is intense enough to account for more than 1 million visits to emergency rooms each year.
Generally, the pain starts when a stone moves into the narrow ureter. These causes a blockage, which makes pressure, build up in the kidney. The pressure activates nerve fibers that transmit pain signals to the brain.
Blood in the urine is a general symptom in people with urinary tract stones. This symptom is also called hematuria.
The blood can be red, pink, or brown. Sometimes the blood cells are too small to see without a microscope (called microscopic hematuria), but your doctor can test for this symptom.
- Urgent need to go
Needing to go to the bathroom more urgently or frequently than normal is another sign that the stone has moved into the lower part of your urinary tract. You may find yourself running to the bathroom, or needing to go constantly throughout the day and night.
- Pain or burning during urination
Once the stone reaches the junction between the ureter and bladder, you’ll start to feel pain when you urinate. Your doctor might call this dysuria.
The pain can feel sharp or burning. If you don’t know you have a kidney stone, you might mistake it for a urinary tract infection. Sometimes you can have an infection along with the stone.
- Fever and chills
Fever and chills are signs that you have an infection in your kidney or another part of your urinary tract. This can be a serious complication to a kidney stone. It can also be a sign of other serious problems besides kidney stones. Any fever with pain wants urgent medical attention.