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What Do Kidney Stones Feel Like?

written by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 1/31/2010

What do kidney stones feel like? It depends on the type and size of the kidney stone, as well as how difficult the stone is to pass from the urinary tract. Learn more about kidney stones to better understand why they cause severe pain.

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    Stone Formation

    Kidney stones form when substances normally present in the urine do not inhibit the formation of mineral crystals. These crystals build up in the urinary tract and form masses that occur in the ureters, kidneys and bladder. The most common type of kidney stone forms when calcium combines with either phosphate or oxalate. Kidney stones also form from uric acid and cysteine. Chronic urinary tract infections can lead to the formation of struvite stones, but these stones are rare.

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    Kidney Stone Shapes

    Kidney stones form in several shapes, which make a difference in how a stone feels as it passes through the urinary system. Round stones have smooth edges and may pass more easily through the urinary tract. Staghorn kidney stones have branch-like formations that scrape the lining of the kidneys and ureters as they pass through the urinary system. This causes bleeding and may lead to infection and damage to the urinary structures. Jagged kidney stones have jagged edges that also damage the kidneys and ureters.

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    Kidney Stone Sizes

    If you’re asking, “What do kidney stones feel like?” you need to understand that size plays a major role in how much pain a kidney stone causes. Mineral crystals that are not dissolved by the urine may pass out of the body easily because they are only as large as specks of sand. It’s when these crystals build up into large masses that kidney stone pain increases. Some patients have had kidney stones the size of golf balls, which increases the risk for urinary damage and causes severe pain.

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    What Do Kidney Stones Feel Like?

    Small kidney stones may have no symptoms, but large stones cause sharp, cramping pain in the lower abdomen, back and side. Nausea and vomiting may occur with this pain. Large stones cause pain as the ureter tries to push the stone into the bladder. As a kidney stone moves closer to the bladder, burning while urinating and urinary urgency may occur.

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    Pain Relief

    Urology Channel reports that pain relievers like acetaminophen and aspirin are usually not effective for the severe pain of kidney stones. Your doctor may prescribe stronger medications that control pain more successfully. Drugs like Darvocet, Percocet, Vicodin and Tylenol with Codeine have stronger pain relief capabilities and provide relief for moderate pain.

    Severe pain requires the use of injectable medications, which are given in a hospital setting. Injectable medications for kidney stones include Dilaudid, Duramorph PF and Toradol. Nurses administer these drugs via intramuscular injection or intravenous (UV) line. Side effects of these medications include nausea and vomiting, drowsiness, constipation and slowed breathing. If you experience serious side effects with any of these drugs, report them to your doctor and ask if an alternate pain relief method is available. Seek emergency treatment for allergic reactions to these pain relievers.