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People often associate kidney and ureteral stones with pain. However, symptoms can vary from severe pain to no pain at all, depending on stone characteristics – such as the size, shape, and location of the stone in the urinary tract (Fig. 1)

Fig. 1: The urinary collecting system.
Fig. 1: The urinary collecting system.

Severe pain (renal colic)

If the stone blocks the normal urine flow through the ureter you will experience severe pain, known as renal colic. This is a sharp pain in the loin and the flank (the side of your body, from the ribs to the hip) (Fig. 2). If the stone is not in your kidney but in your ureter, you may feel pain in the groin or thigh. Men can even have pain in their testicles.

Renal colic is caused by a sudden increase of pressure in the urinary tract and the ureteral wall. The pain comes in waves and does not decrease if you change positions. It is described as one of the most painful experiences, similar to giving birth.

Other symptoms that may accompany renal colic are:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in the urine (urine appears pink)
  • Painful urination
  • Fever

Renal colic is an emergency situation and you should contact your family doctor or nearest hospital to relieve the pain. In case of high fever, you must seek medical help immediately.

Fig. 2: Area of possible renal colic pain.
Fig. 2: Area of possible renal colic pain.

Dull pain

Stones that do not block the ureter can cause a recurrent, dull pain in the flank. This kind of pain may also point to other diseases, so you will need to take medical tests to find out if you have kidney or ureteral stones.

No symptoms

Some stones do not cause any discomfort. These are called asymptomatic stones and are usually small. They do not block the flow of urine. In general asymptomatic stones are found during x-ray or similar imaging procedures for other conditions. Discuss your individual circumstances with your doctor and what would be the best possible treatment for you.