What are the kidneys? The kidneys are bean-shaped organs, which are located in the back muscles in your upper abdomen. They are directly opposite each other, located on both the right and left side of your upper abdomen.
The kidneys have the primary functions of removing waste products and excess fluids from the body. They are also in charge of producing hormones that regulate many bodily functions such as:
- Blood pressure
- Acid regulation
- Red blood cell production
- The metabolism of calcium, sodium, potassium and other electrolytes
However, sometimes you may feel a slight ache in your back and under your ribs where your kidneys are supposed to be located. This is generally known as kidney pain and can be caused by a lot of factors. Pain can either be felt in the right or left kidney or can be simultaneously felt through both kidneys.
This type of pain is differentiated from back pain because common back pain or muscle pain tends to be located lower in the back while kidney pain is much higher in the back. But on some occasions, back pain can also be a symptom of kidney pain. You can notice this when the pain moves toward your side or groin area.
What Causes of Kidney Pain?
If you are experiencing kidney pain, then it could be one of many causes. Some of the most common reports of what causes kidney pain are:
- Kidney Stones – More often than not, kidney stones are one of the most common causes of kidney pain. Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi, are solid masses of crystals that can develop anywhere along your urinary tract, not just in your kidneys. Kidney stones can be made up of any of the following crystals: Calcium, Uric Acid, Struvite, and Cystine. Calcium stones are perhaps the most common types of kidney stones.
- Pyelonephritis – Pyelonephritis, or kidney infection can also be one of the leading causes of kidney pain. Kidney infection is one of the many types of Urinary Tract Infection or UTI. This condition most commonly begins in your urethra or bladder and will travel through both of your kidneys. This condition is dangerous as the infection can travel through your bloodstream, or worse, permanently damage your kidneys.
- Polycystic Kidney Disease – or PKD, is an inherited kidney disorder which causes cysts to form in the kidneys and cause significant kidney pain. These cysts are usually fluid-filled and may impair kidney function and eventually cause kidney failure.
- Kidney Cancer or Tumor – Kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma being one of the most common types can also be a cause of kidney pain. Another type of kidney cancer is Wilm’s tumor, which may develop more likely in children.
- Obstructive Uropathy – Obstructive uropathy is just another term for when something completely or partially blocks urine from flowing through the urethra. What happens is that urine will flow back towards your kidneys instead of flowing to your bladder.
There are also other causes of kidney pain such as:
- Renal Vein Thrombosis – Blood clots in kidney veins
- Hemorrhage – Bleeding in your kidney
- Kidney swelling – due to hydronephrosis or backup of urine
- Bladder infection
Risk Factors Involving Kidney Pain
There are certain factors that if you may have, will increase your chances of experiencing kidney pain. Some of these are:
- Kidney stones – As stated before, if you have been diagnosed with having kidney stones, no matter how small, they can be the primary cause of your kidney pain.
- Urinary Tract Infection – Urinary tract infection, abbreviated as UTI also increases your risk of experiencing kidney pain.
- Gallstones – Believe it or not, having gallstones can also be a cause of kidney pain. This is because gallstones can inhibit the body’s ability to digest food properly and may cause toxic matter to not be properly digested, thus affecting most of the body’s excretory systems.
- Analgesic nephropathy – or injury caused to the kidneys by excessive intake of analgesic medications such as phenacetin and acetaminophen contained in paracetamol and aspirin.
- Kidney failure
- Kidney disease
- Urinary tract obstruction
Complications Caused by Kidney Pain
It is important to note that kidney pain should always be consulted with your physician or health care provider at the first signs of its symptoms. This is to prevent further damage to your health, and to prevent the following complications from happening:
- Permanent Damage to Your Kidneys
- Kidney Infection entering the bloodstream
- Kidney scars
- Kidney Disease
- Birth Complications – If you are pregnant and experiencing kidney pain, you might want to get checked immediately as kidney infections can result in low birth weight and premature labor.
Kidney Pain: Treatment and Care
Once you have been diagnosed, you immediately need to seek treatment in order to prevent permanent kidney damaged. There are many treatments available for kidney pain, and your doctor might prescribe to you any of these kidney pain treatments based on the source of the condition:
- Antibiotics – Antibiotics are the first line of treatment that may be prescribed to you by your doctor, especially in the case of infections. The doctor may prescribe to you any kind of antibiotics depending on your health and the type of bacteria found in your urine examinations. The duration in which you will take antibiotics will vary from a week to a month. You might need to finish a batch of antibiotics even if the pain has already cleared.
- Pain Relievers – Of course, pain relievers are used to alleviate the pain you are feeling during kidney pain treatment. The pain reliever that will be prescribed to you by your doctor will depend on the underlying cause of your kidney pain. But the most commonly prescribed medications are Ibuprofen, Ketorolac, Acetaminophen, and occasionally small doses of morphine in the case of surgeries and kidney stones.
Note that pain relievers in most cases of kidney pain treatment will not actually treat the condition itself. Pain relievers will only treat the pain and not the underlying cause of pain such as kidney stones or infections. However, in some cases, patients may accidentally sweep the kidney stone out of their urethras, and be pain-free after that.
- Urologic Surgery – In the case of kidney pain caused by kidney stones, an effective treatment would be urologic surgery. This treatment is done in kidney stones that completely block a ureter, and are about 6mm in diameter or even larger. The recovery time for urologic surgery is fast, usually, the client will feel better on the same day or in a few days time. However, in cases that require extensive urologic surgery, such as in cases where there is an abnormality in the structure of your urinary system, the recovery time may vary from a few weeks to a few months.
- Intravenous fluids – The pain relievers and/or antibiotics mentioned above can also be administered to you through a vein in your arm.
Kidney Treatment Aftercare and Prevention
After receiving urologic surgery or after passing a kidney stone through your urethra, you may notice a certain discomfort while recovering. To alleviate discomfort after recovery you can do any of the following:
- Applying heat to the affected part – You can choose to apply heat to the affected part of your abdomen where the surgery has taken place. This can help ease the pain until you fully recover from the treatment.
- Continuing to take pain relievers – you may choose to continue taking pain relievers well after the actual kidney pain has subsided, as some pain will still be present due to the surgical wounds.
- Drinking lots of fluids – staying hydrated can keep bacteria away from your urinary tract while you recover, as your urinary system will be vulnerable right after you have experienced kidney pain treatment. Avoid alcohol and coffee until your surgical wounds have healed, so as to avoid infection and avoid worsening the feeling of having to constantly urinate.
- Avoiding salty foods – avoiding foods that may put a strain on your kidney’s filtration process can aid greatly in your recovery.
Kidney Pain Prevention
Now that you have had kidney pain treatment, you might be more cautious about certain things in order for you to avoid experiencing kidney pain all over again. You can reduce the risk by taking certain steps such as:
- Drinking fluids – Staying hydrated, especially with water can help aid your kidney in filtering toxic wastes from your body. Fluids can help your kidney flush the bacteria whenever you have the need to urinate.
- Don’t hold your urine in – urinate whenever you need to, and avoid holding your urine in whenever you have the urge to urinate. This can cause complications in your kidney and urinary system.
- Urinate right after intercourse – after having intercourse, urinate as soon as possible to help your urethra flush bacteria away. This tip is especially helpful for women, in order for them to reduce infection and avoid UTI and further urinary system infections.
- Wiping – For women, by simply wiping carefully you can avoid bacteria spreading to your urethra. This is evident when you have to use toilets, especially public ones, as your genital area may come in contact directly with the bowl when urinating or after a bowel movement.
11 Common Symptoms of Kidney Pain
Kidney pain in itself is a symptom of many other conditions indicating that you have a problem with your urinary system. However, in most cases, the pain itself is not felt. So look out for one or more of these symptoms of kidney pain that may indicate you have the condition:
- Fever – Fever is one of the most common symptoms. Most of the time, fever, if not accompanied by the pain felt in the kidneys, will be dismissed by the patient as just ordinary fever. However, fever can be underlying symptoms that you have a kidney infection.
- Painful Urination – Difficulty urinating or experiencing pain while doing so is one of the other common symptoms of kidney pain. This is because the kidneys are primarily responsible for most of your urinary functions, so it is safe to say that having difficulty urinating can be a sure symptom of kidney pain.
- Flank Pain – The flank is the part of your body that is located between the ribs and the hip. Flank pain is also one of the common symptoms as the flank is where the kidneys are directly located. In some cases, flank pain is synonymous with kidney pain symptom.
- Nausea – Nausea is also one of the common symptoms.
- Vomiting – Vomiting usually comes hand-in-hand with nausea.
- Fatigue – When your kidneys are not experiencing any complication, they make a hormone called erythropoietin that allows your body to make red blood cells that carry oxygen. When the kidney fails as a result of kidney pain, you will get tired more quickly as there will be less red blood cells that carry oxygen.
- Shortness of Breath – This is in relation to the kidney’s difficulty in producing EPO’s or erythropoietin. Another reason is that your kidneys fail to remove extra fluid and this fluid can build up in your lungs, and you will experience shortness of breath.
- Itchiness – the feeling of itching all over your body is also another kidney pain symptom most people aren’t aware of. Kidney pain can cause the kidney to malfunction, and this can cause a build-up of wastes in your blood and body that can cause severe itching.
- Swelling of Hands and Feet – an extra fluid that is not removed by your kidneys can cause swelling in the extremities of your body such as in the legs, feet, hands, ankles, and in your face.
- Problems with Urinating – When the kidneys experience pain, you will experience problems with one of its primary functions, namely urinating. You may urinate more often or less often, depending on the situation. When you urinate more often you may notice that your urine is more pale-colored than usual. On the other hand, when urinating less, you may experience darker colored urine than usual. You may also feel a pressure when urinating
- Different colored urine – When experiencing symptoms of kidney pain, your urine may have different properties than usual. Your urine may come out more foamy or bubbly than usual, and it may take on a different color such as brown, red or purple.
Procedures Used to Diagnose Kidney Pain
Once you have experienced any of the symptoms of kidney pain stated, it may be time for you to get yourself diagnosed to further determine what is causing the pain in your kidneys. There are many ways to diagnose what kind of condition is causing the pain in your kidneys, some of the most commonly used are:
- Urinalysis – Urinalysis can easily reinforce any kidney pain symptom you may have by examining your urine. Urinalysis tests for protein, blood, and pus in your urine. The presence of protein in your urine can indicate an infection in your urinary system. However, this is not the case most of the time, as protein can be present in your urine for any number of reasons, such as heavy physical workout. So the test can be carried out any number of times until a concrete diagnosis has been made.
- Blood Urea Nitrogen – or BUN, can be used to check for waste products in your blood. The BUN is used to measure the amount of urea nitrogen in your blood, which is a breakdown product of protein. When you take this test, make sure you tell your doctor what medications or supplements you have been taking, as some medicines such aspirin and certain types of antibiotic can increase your BUN count.
- CT Exam – renal protocol or noncontract spiral CT, as well as renal ultrasound, can also be done to examine if the kidney pain you are experiencing is caused particularly by kidney stones.
- MRI or Magnetic Resonance Imaging
- CBC or Complete Blood Count
- Serum Creatinine Test
- GFR or Glomerular Filtration Rate