Kidney stones are crystals of different sizes and shapes that develop in the kidneys and are often extremely painful. The stones may block urine flow and can, in severe instances, result in renal failure. The most common type of kidney stone forms when calcium and oxalate clump together in concentrated urine. A less common type, composed of uric acid, is more common in men than in women. Often, the stones are small enough to pass unnoticed through the ureter, the tube connecting the kidney and bladder. Occasionally, larger stones can become lodged and require treatment.
Kidney stones often present as a persistent ache on one side of the lower back. The pain can radiate around the side of the pelvis and down toward the groin. The lodged stone can block urine, which puts pressure on the ureter walls. Potentially extreme discomfort can last from minutes to several days and may require treatment.
One of the earliest warning signs of kidney stones is an urgent and frequent need to urinate regardless of fluid intake. As such, this urge can results in low urine volume despite the urgent sensation. Urinating can become painful as the pressure on the lodged stone pushes it through the ureter. This can cause a burning sensation during urination, with pain ranging from mild to severe.
Kidney stones may cause increased discomfort when sitting, lying down, or walking for any extended period because certain positions place added pressure on the ureters. For this reason, people with kidney stones may have difficulty sleeping at night and need to frequently reposition themselves to reduce the discomfort.
In some cases, smaller kidney stones do not cause much pain. However, their sharp, jagged edges can create small scrapes on the inner ureter or urethra walls that can increase the risk of infection. Urinary tract infections or UTIs frequently lead to fever and chills that may require treatment.
The intense pain some kidney stones cause can lead to nausea that can become quite severe and include cramping and vomiting, as well. The pain and nausea can also make it difficult to eat and result in dehydration that, if serious enough, may call for hospitalization.
Many people with kidney stones notice a change in urine color. This is due to the scrapes and cuts on the ureter's inner wall. As the kidney stone passes through the ureter, it can cause bleeding that mixes with the urine, changing its color. Urine ranges from normal, to pink, red, or even dark brown. Blood in the urine is called hematuria.
Kidneys remove waste, impurities, and microbes from the bloodstream, which the body then eliminates through urination. Bacteria can build up behind stones and cause infection and an unpleasant smell. Furthermore, when urine becomes more concentrated, as it does in people with kidney stones, it can also have a foul-smelling odor. In addition to a foul odor, urine may also be cloudy.
Swelling in the kidneys is one of the more serious potential symptoms of a kidney stone. When a stone is large enough, it can completely block the flow of urine, causing the fluid to back up. This accumulation leads to swelling of the kidney and ureter, the tube that carries urine out of the body. Left untreated, a swollen kidney can cause septic shock, a very dangerous condition.
Frequent night sweats are another common sign of a kidney stone. The production of certain hormones increases when pain develops from a kidney stone. These hormones affect functions like heart rate and blood pressure. They also cause night sweats. People with kidney stones should take care to stay hydrated, as night sweats will reduce the amount of urine the body creates, and urine production is essential for eliminating the stones.
People with kidney stones can become tired and confused. This symptom may develop when slow-moving stones take days to pass, causing extended periods of poor sleep and extreme fatigue. Tiredness and fatigue can also occur when an infection develops behind the stone, leading to fever. Dehydration from sweating and vomiting is another potential cause of confusion and weakness, and another reason to ensure good hydration and consider medical care when experiencing kidney stones.
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