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What do kidney stones feel like?

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

You will likely know if you have a kidney stone. The stones are solid lumps, often with a high calcium content (think limescale clumps). They cause no problems when small or sitting in the kidney. But they cause excruciating pain if they get stuck moving from one of your kidneys, down a tube called the ureter, to your bladder.

Most people describe the pain as sharp or cramping waves, causing them to double over until the spasm passes after a few seconds or minutes. This is when your ureter is blocked, but this muscular tube is trying to force the stone down by squeezing.

You'll feel this from one side of your lower back, round to the front lower part of the abdomen. It sometimes radiates to the vagina, testicle, or tip of the penis. This is called loin-to-groin pain.

Stones then have to move from the bladder via another tube, the urethra, and out in your urine. This may correspond to more painful spasms as the urethra contracts.

Doctor’s advice

How seriously should I take this?

You are likely unable to concentrate on anything else with this type of pain, so call your doctor or get to the emergency department for an assessment and they may arrange a scan and do blood tests.

They will also consider other causes of pain like this, such as a urine or kidney infection, appendicitis, pelvic pain in women or prostatitis in men, or simple severe lower back pain.

While you wait for an assessment, you can take acetaminophen or ibuprofen (if just for short-term relief). Your doctor can prescribe any stronger pain relief.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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