Many kidney stones are too small to cause symptoms. But if a kidney stone causes a blockage, or moves into your ureter, you may:
- have severe pain or ache on one or both sides of your back
- get sudden spasms of excruciating pain – this usually starts in the back below your ribs, radiating around your abdomen, and sometimes to your groin and genitals
- have bloody or cloudy urine
- feel sick or vomit
- need to urinate often, or feel a burning sensation during urination
- get fever and chills
You can also have these symptoms if you have a urinary tract infection (UTI) or cystitis. If you have one or more of these symptoms, you should ask a doctor for advice.
The pain of kidney stones – called renal colic – can be very severe. It begins as soon as the stone becomes stuck in the ureter, and tends to come in waves. It's not usually associated with the size of the kidney stone – sometimes small stones can cause more pain than very large ones.
Small kidney stones are usually passed out of the body within a day or so and mostly within six weeks. Bigger stones are less likely to pass out of the body spontaneously. Stones greater than 5mm (a quarter of an inch) in diameter are the least likely to pass without medical help.
If you're pregnant and have any symptoms of kidney stones, see a doctor straightaway.
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. The doctor may do more tests to confirm the diagnosis and/or refer you to a urologist or an emergency department for tests. These will show the size, location and type of your kidney stone. The tests may include:
- urine analysis – to look for signs of infection
- blood tests – to identify excess amounts of certain chemicals which cause kidney stones
- CT (computed tomography) scan – this uses X-rays to make a three-dimensional image of the area
- intravenous urogram (IVU) – injection of a special dye that shows up the whole urinary system and any stones on X-ray images
- ultrasound scan – this uses sound waves to produce an image of the internal organs
- X-ray – stones that contain calcium usually show up white on X-ray images
Please note that availability and use of specific tests may vary from country to country.