What is kidney pain?
Kidney pain (renal pain) is discomfort near your kidneys. Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located just below your ribcage, on each side of your spine. Kidney pain doesn’t always mean there’s a problem with your kidneys specifically — but it does usually indicate an issue somewhere in your urinary system.
What does it feel like when your kidneys hurt?
People often mistake kidney pain for back pain. But there are some key differences between kidney pain and how it feels compared to back pain.
Kidney pain vs back pain
Back pain usually affects the middle of your back, over your spine, and most commonly in the lower back. Spine-related issues can also cause back pain to sometimes radiate down your legs.
In comparison, kidney pain is typically located higher on your back and it often feels deeper. Most of the time, kidney pain symptoms occur under your ribs, to the right or left of your spine. Kidney pain may also radiate to other areas, such as your abdomen or groin. Sometimes, hip pain is confused with kidney pain, but hip pain is lower down in your back than kidney pain.
What are the most common causes of kidney pain?
Your kidneys are connected to your bladder and ureters (the tubes that carry pee from your kidneys to your bladder). Problems with any of these areas can result in pain and discomfort. Possible causes of kidney pain include:
- Kidney stones. Kidney stones form from the buildup of minerals or compounds inside your body. Stones may be as small as a grain of sand or larger than a pearl. Small stones may leave your body on their own. However, larger stones may get stuck in your urinary tract and prevent pee from passing through. In either case, intense kidney pain can develop.
- Urinary retention. With this condition, you’re unable to empty your bladder completely. This can happen suddenly or gradually over time.
- Vesicoureteral reflux (VUR). This reflux of urine causes urine to flow backward from your bladder to your ureters or kidneys. VUR can happen to anyone, but it’s most common in babies and young children.
- Ureteropelvic junction obstruction. With this condition, there’s a blockage that occurs where your ureter attaches to your kidney. This can cause flank pain that may radiate to your belly or groin.
- Ureteral stricture. This refers to a narrowing of your ureter. The ureters are the tubes that carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. Ureteral stricture can occur on one or both sides.
- Kidney infection (pyelonephritis). This condition develops when bacteria infects your kidneys. Symptoms include fever, chills, back or side pain, and nausea and vomiting.
- Polycystic kidney disease. People with this inherited condition have fluid-filled sacs (cysts) inside their kidneys. As the cysts expand, the kidneys become enlarged and can cause pain. As a result, they may not function properly.
- Injury or trauma. Impact from contact sports, accidents or other blunt force trauma may cause physical damage to your kidneys. This could result in blood in the urine or around the kidneys as well as leakage of urine from the kidneys.
- Kidney (renal) cancer. The most common type of kidney cancer, renal cell carcinoma, usually affects people in their 60s or 70s. Symptoms may include blood in your pee, flank pain or the appearance of a lump on your side.
What are common kidney pain symptoms?
People with kidney pain may experience different symptoms. Some of the most common kidney pain symptoms include:
- A constant, dull ache in your back.
- Pain in your sides, under your rib cage or in your abdomen.
- Severe or sharp pain that comes in waves.
- Pain that spreads to your groin area.
- Kidney pain is often accompanied by nausea or vomiting, especially if the pain is due to kidney stones.
Care and Treatment
How is kidney pain treated?
Kidney pain treatment depends on the condition that’s causing it. For example, if you have kidney pain due to an infection, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics. If you have kidney pain due to stones, then you may need to have treatment to remove them.
What tests can help determine the cause of kidney pain?
In order to pinpoint a cause, a number of tools are available to help your healthcare provider make a diagnosis:
- Urinalysis: This test checks for the presence of blood, white blood cells (which would point to an infection), proteins and certain molecules that are linked to various kidney disorders.
- Imaging tests: Ultrasound or a CT (computed tomography) scan can provide images of the physical structure of the kidneys and urinary tract. It can also tell your healthcare provider if stones are present and determine if urine flow is adequate.
What should I do if my kidneys hurt?
If you have kidney pain that doesn’t go away, the first thing you should do is call your healthcare provider to schedule an appointment or go to the emergency room if you have symptoms such as uncontrolled pain, severe nausea or vomiting, fevers or chills, or an inability to pee. In the meantime, here are some things you can do to ease discomfort:
- Stay hydrated. Drinking lots of water will help flush bacteria from your urinary tracts. Avoid caffeinated drinks and alcohol.
- Use heat. Place a heating pad on your back, abdomen or side to help reduce kidney pain.
- Take pain relievers. To ease fever or discomfort, take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen (unless you have known liver or kidney damage and are not supposed to use these medications).
What drinks are bad for the kidneys?
In general, water is the best. Drinks that are high in sugar can lead to diabetes and those with lots of salt or caffeine can cause dehydration, both of which can lead to kidney damage over time.
When to Call the Doctor
When should I call my healthcare provider?
See your doctor if you have persistent pain in the kidney area, or if you have back pain along with any of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills.
- Nausea or vomiting such that you cannot eat or drink.
- Oddly colored pee.
- Pain when you pee.
- Blood in your pee.
- A repeated urgent need to pee that is unusual for you.
- The appearance of solid material (kidney stones) in your pee.
- A general feeling of illness or lethargy that won’t go away.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Kidney pain may be mild or severe. Sometimes it’s harmless, but in most cases, it means that you have a problem somewhere in your urinary system. If you develop back pain along with fever, vomiting, pain when you pee or other worrisome symptoms, see a healthcare provider right away. They can find out what’s causing your kidney pain and figure out how to treat the problem.
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