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What are the kidneys?

Kidneys are bean-shaped, paired organs located toward the back of your body and they are partially protected by the ribs. Their function is to remove excess organic molecules, waste products of metabolism, regulation of hemostasis, regulation of blood pressure, maintenance of acid-base balance, and production of hormones.

What causes kidney pain?

Various conditions, some harmless and some serious, can cause kidney pain. Common causes are:

  • Urinary tract infections
  • Pyelonephritis - a severe infection of the kidneys. Usually only affects one side, but can affect both kidneys in rare cases. The pain has a dull character. This condition causes swelling of the kidneys, can permanently damage them and can even become life threatening.
  • Hydronephrosis - retention of urine due to failure of normal urine drainage from the kidneys to the bladder. It affects only one kidney, but both can be involved.
  • Polycystic kidney disease - an inherited kidney disorder, causing cysts to form in the kidney. These cysts are filled with fluid and can vary in number, size and location. With time, the kidney function is damaged and the condition leads to kidney failure.
  • Kidney cancer - adenocarcinoma is the most common type of kidney cancer. Risk factors include: male gender, age, long term dialysis, horseshoe kidney, polycystic kidney disease, and hypertension.
  • Atherosclerosis - hardening of the arteries that supply the kidneys with blood.
  • Renal vein thrombosis - blood clots in the renal veins.
  • Hemorrhage - bleeding in your kidney, mostly caused by a trauma
  • Horseshoe kidney - congenital abnormality where the two kidneys are fused into one.
  • Kidney injuries
  • Kidney stones - the pain doesn't really arise from the kidneys as kidney stones are painless. Usually in this case you feel pain because the stone has moved from the kidney toward the ureter and bladder, causing renal colics while the stones are eliminated from the body.

Signs and symptoms

Depending on the main cause of kidney pain you may also have:

  • Fever
  • Bleeding or pus in the urine
  • Painful or burning urination
  • Urgent and frequent need to urinate
  • Smelly urine
  • Cloudy urine
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Dizziness
  • A general ill feeling
Serious symptoms that may indicate a life threatening condition are: high fever, not producing any urine, change in level of alertness, abnormal heart rhythm, rapid breathing and severe pain.

How is kidney pain diagnosed?

It is very important while visiting your doctor to tell them when the pain started, where it is located, if it is an acute or chronic pain, and if you have any other symptoms.

Your doctor will most likely run some tests like a blood test, urine test, urinoculture, ultrasound of the kidneys and bladder, CT, cystoscopy, etc.

How is kidney pain treated?

The treatment of kidney pain varies with the cause. If you have been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection, you will need antibiotics.

If you have kidney stones, pain relievers, lithotripsy or tunnel surgery is used.

In the case of polycystic kidney disease, the goal of the treatment is to manage the symptoms.

Hydronephrosis treatment depends on the cause, but its primary goal is to get rid of the collected urine, which will prevent further damage to the renal parenchyma.

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