Kidney stones are solid bodies made up of chemicals in the urine, and there are many types, but they all have similar signs, and they can be very bothersome. The kidneys are a fist-sized organ that deals with levels of fluids and chemicals in the body. The kidneys are located on each side of the spine, behind the liver, stomach, pancreas, and intestines.
Small kidney stones can pass through the urinary tract without a person feeling any symptoms. However, large kidney stones may become lodged in the urinary tract. This is usually the point at which a person will experience the first signs of kidney stones.
This article describes the early signs of kidney stones. We also discuss what causes kidney stones, as well as their possible complications.
What are kidney stones?
Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits and salt that can form in the kidneys. Doctors say that urine contains various minerals that can crystallize if the urine is highly concentrated. Over time, these crystallized structures form into stone-like structures of different shapes and sizes.
The first signs of kidney stones
Kidney stones vary in size. Smaller stones have a lower chance of becoming lodged in the kidneys or other parts of the urinary tract. Mild to moderate symptoms may occur during the passage of the small stone, although many people may pass the stones without feeling any pain.
Large stones may cause pain, bleeding, inflammation, or infection. However, these symptoms may not usually appear until the stone begins to move through the urinary tract.
Here are the first signs of kidney stones:
1- Low back pressure or pain
In some cases, the stone may lodge in the ureter. The ureter is the tube that carries urine from your kidneys to your bladder, and thus blockage in the ureter causes urine to return to the kidneys, resulting in a feeling of pain and pressure in the lower back. These symptoms may occur on the right or left side, depending on which kidney is affected.
According to the University of Chicago, pain or pressure is usually the first sign of a kidney stone. In some cases, symptoms may be very subtle and slowly build up. In other cases, it may appear suddenly without early warning signs.
This pain can be severe and may lead to nausea, vomiting, or both. People often experience sharp, stabbing pain, which is not relieved by common measures such as rest or lying down.
2- UTI-type symptoms
In some cases, a person with a kidney stone may notice some symptoms similar to those of a urinary tract infection (UTI). These include the following:
- Frequent urination or an urge to urinate
- Pain or discomfort while urinating
- distorted urine
- smelly urine
- blood in urine
Anyone experiencing any of the above signs and symptoms should see a doctor. Your doctor can do tests to check your urine for signs of a UTI. If there is no infection, the person may be passing kidney stones.
When a gallstone is present with an infection, this can be a serious medical concern that may warrant emergency treatment.
3- Gastrointestinal issues
The first signs of kidney stones may include stomach and gastrointestinal issues (GI). Some digestive symptoms that may indicate the presence of kidney stones include:
- Stomach upset that does not go away
According to the American Kidney Fund, a person should see a doctor if they experience any of the gastrointestinal issues listed above.
Types and their causes
In most cases, kidney stones form when a person's urine contains extremely high levels of certain chemicals.
We outline the main types of kidney stones below.
Struvite stones make up about 10% of kidney stones. They are usually the result of chronic urinary tract infections, which can make urine more alkaline. This increases the growth of large, branch-like struvite stones.
There are two types of calcium stones: calcium phosphate ana calcium oxalate. Together, they make up about 80% of all kidney stones.
Less than 1% of kidney stones are made up of the amino acid cysteine. A rare genetic condition called "cystinuria" prevents the kidneys from reabsorbing cysteine from the urine. People with this condition are at particular risk of developing cystine stones.
Uric acid stones
About 5-10% of kidney stones are uric acid stones, which develop as a result of excess acid in the urine.
Anyone can develop kidney stones, although some factors can increase a person's risk. According to the American Urological Association (AUA), an important risk factor is low urine volume. When a person is dehydrated, there is not enough fluid to dilute the salts in the urine.
Other risk factors include:
- being male
- Being of non-Hispanic ethnicity
- Having a family history of kidney stones
- Eating a diet rich in animal proteins
- Take certain supplements, such as vitamin C and calcium
Other medical conditions that increase the risk of developing kidney stones include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- cystic kidney disease
- Kidney abnormalities from birth, such as poor or deformed kidneys
Most small kidney stones can be treated at home without treatment. Stones may exit the urinary tract with little or no discomfort, or at least tolerable.
However, kidney stones that are not broken down and passed out of the body can cause complications if left untreated. It may include:
- Ureteral obstruction or narrowing
- Urine builds up, which puts extra pressure on the kidneys
- Increased risk of kidney disease
When to see a doctor
A person should speak to their doctor if they have symptoms of a UTI, such as pain, fever, and frequent urination. Your doctor will perform tests to help determine if your symptoms are those of a urinary tract infection or the first signs of kidney stones mentioned above. In either case, a person may need treatment.
Additionally, if abdominal or back pain is so severe that it requires pain relievers, or if a person experiences relentless nausea or vomiting along with the pain, they should seek medical attention.
In order to diagnose kidney stones, a doctor may order an imaging test, such as an ultrasound or CT scan. These tests can also indicate the location and size of the stone.