Why Are Kidney Stones So Painful?

July 20, 2016
Pain is our body’s way of saying that something inside isn’t right. It can be sharp, dull, intermittent, or constant, but one thing is certain: kidney stones can be extremely painful. Which can beg the questions of why they are so painful, and what can be done to prevent this condition? 

Kidney stones come in all shapes, sizes, textures, and colors depending on their mineral makeup. The smallest stones often pass with little to no pain but it’s the larger stones that cause obstructions that have people really worried. 

Kidney stones are hard mineral deposits in the bladder that cause excruciating pain when passed during urination. However, pain and other adverse symptoms can occur long before the stone makes its way out of the body. In fact, it can begin as soon as the stone moves from the kidneys and down into the ureters, the two thin tubes that funnel urine from the kidneys to the bladder.

As the crystal mass makes its way into the ureter, it can create a partial or total blockage. Because the kidneys continue excreting urine and the fluid cannot properly drain, pressure builds up inside the kidney. The nerve fibers of the kidney and surrounding areas interpret this pressure as pain. These nerves also transmit pain signals as the ureter stretches to accommodate the stone.

Symptoms of kidney stones

The location of the pain shifts with the stone. Patients usually experience waves of sharp, knifelike pain in one or both sides of their back or lower abdomen when the stone or stones are lodged near the kidneys. As the stone migrates down through the ureter into the bladder, pain will be felt in the groin area. Pain is also experienced as the stone passes through the narrow opening of the urethra, oftentimes to the extent that it causes nausea or vomiting.

Urinating may be painful and may be accompanied by pink or brown colored urine due to the presence of blood. It may also have a foul odor. Fever and chills are also common symptoms if an infection sets in.


One of the easiest ways to significantly reduce the chance of developing kidney stones is by staying adequately hydrated. Dehydration can cause minerals to concentrate in the urine, bind together, and then solidify into small, hard crystals. Drinking plenty of fluids every day is one of the best ways to prevent this from happening.

Additionally, limiting your consumption of food high in oxalate, such as beets, peanuts, and spinach, can help to reduce the production the most common type of kidney stone, calcium oxalate stones. Uric acid stones are another type that can be prevented by limiting the consumption of animal protein, which contains high levels of a chemical called purine. Purine can be found in red meat and shellfish and causes the urine to become acidic, which can promote uric acid stones to form.

As with any new diet, be sure to speak with your doctor or dietician before making any drastic changes as they may not always be the healthiest choice for everyone. 


Luckily, patients who suffer from kidney stones can find relief with modern day medicine.
The Urology Center at Bumrungrad International Hospital offers both non-invasive and minimally invasive procedures to get rid of kidney stones. Options include drug therapy, shock wave lithotripsy, endoscopic removal, and surgery. Speak more with your doctor to determine which option is right for you. 

By Dr. Sarit Hutakowit, Urologist, Urology Center, Bumrungrad Hospital
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