Renal colic is pain that occurs when a stone blocks your urinary tract. While small stones can be passed in urine, larger stones require other treatments such as surgery. Your healthcare provider can also give you medications to ease painful symptoms in the meantime.
Renal colic is pain that may occur when a stone gets stuck in part of your urinary tract. Other urinary tract disorders, such as infection, spasm, or stricture may also cause pain. Stones form when minerals or other substances build up, stick together and create crystals. These stones can be located in any part of your urinary system — your kidneys (kidney stones), bladder (bladder stones) or ureters (ureteral stones). Depending on the size and location of the stone, renal colic can range from mild to severe.
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A stone in your urinary tract can be as small as a grain of sand or as big as a golf ball. The larger the stones grow, the more painful they may become.
It’s estimated that 5% to 15% of the population experiences renal colic.
Yes. Sometimes ureteral or bladder spasms can cause renal colic. These spasms occur when your ureter or bladder muscles contract suddenly, resulting in burning or cramping pain. Ureteral or bladder spasms can happen with or without urinary stones.
The most common warning sign of renal colic is intense flank pain on the affected side of your body, between your lower ribs and hip. This pain can radiate to your back, groin or lower abdomen. Renal colic can come in waves, and it’s often accompanied by nausea and vomiting.
Other symptoms that might appear in combination with renal colic include:
Urinary stones are the main cause of renal colic. If the stone restricts your flow of urine, it can cause increased pressure and inflammation.
Stones can form in your urinary tract for several reasons, including:
There are other things that can cause renal colic. If stones aren’t found to be the source of your pain, your healthcare provider may refer you to a urologist for further testing.
Your healthcare provider will perform an examination and ask about your symptoms and medical history. To confirm a renal colic diagnosis, they may perform:
Pain relievers such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen and naproxen sodium can help ease mild renal colic. If you have severe pain, your healthcare provider may prescribe stronger pain medication. If renal colic is due to ureteral spasms, your provider can give you medications to relax your muscles and reduce discomfort.
Renal colic treatment depends on the type of stone you have. There are several different types of urinary stones, including:
Treatment also depends on the size of your urinary stone:
If you have a small urinary stone, you may be able to pass it when you pee. You should drink lots of fluids to help pass the stone, and your healthcare provider can prescribe medications to help with the pain. They might also ask you to pee through a strainer. This catches any urinary stone fragments so a lab can analyze them.
It’s unlikely that you’ll pass larger stones when you pee. So, your healthcare provider may recommend a procedure to remove them, such as:
In some circumstances, more than one surgery may be necessary to treat the stones.
To reduce the risk of renal colic, you’ll need to take steps to reduce the likelihood of urinary stones. Here are some helpful tips:
If you’ve had urinary stones in the past, your healthcare provider may prescribe medications such as potassium citrate or thiazide diuretics. These drugs can help reduce the recurrence (return) of urinary stones.
If you have renal colic, you should see your healthcare provider right away. They can run tests to determine the source of your pain. Then they’ll recommend appropriate treatment to remove the stone and ease your symptoms.
Waves of renal colic can last anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes. In severe cases, the pain can last even longer. If you experience renal colic that doesn’t improve, go to your nearest emergency room.
Sometimes they can. Once a stone has moved out of your kidney, you might feel spasms as your urinary system works to push it out. Additionally, you may also experience severe, radiating pain below your ribs and above your hip.
If you develop flank pain that radiates to your groin, back or lower abdomen, then schedule a visit with your healthcare provider. They can find out whether your pain is because of renal colic or if it’s due to another condition. In many cases, your provider can give you medications that will quickly relieve pain associated with urinary stones.
If you have an infection as well as renal colic, then it’s an emergency. If you develop fever, chills or other symptoms of infection, call 911 or head to your nearest emergency room.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Renal colic is a specific type of pain caused by urinary stones or other urinary tract disorders. Discomfort can range from mild to extremely severe. In some cases, renal colic can be so painful that it interferes with your quality of life. Prompt diagnosis and treatment are the first steps toward feeling better. If you have a history of urinary stones, ask your healthcare provider about ways to reduce your risk of recurrence.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 04/07/2022.
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