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What Does Kidney Pain Feel Like?

Your kidneys are two bean-shaped organs located just below the ribcage. Healthy kidneys work hard to filter your blood by removing waste, toxins, and excess water to produce urine. When there is a problem with the kidneys, however, they may not function properly and cause you to have severe pain that may not go away with standard treatment.

Where Do You Feel Kidney Pain?

The location of your kidney pain location may depend on the kidney involved and other organs affected. In general, kidney pain appears as:

  • deep pain in the middle to upper back,
  • pain progressing to your abdomen or groin,
  • a dull ache in one side of your abdomen or back, or
  • pain under your rib cage.

Kidney Pain Symptoms

Depending on the root cause of your kidney pain, you may experience sharp kidney pain that comes and goes or a dull pain that never goes away.

Types of kidney pain symptoms include:

  • flank (side of body between your hips and ribs) or loin pain,
  • nausea/vomiting,
  • loss of appetite,
  • cloudy urine,
  • blood in urine, and
  • difficulty sleeping from pain.

When to See a Doctor

If you experience any of the kidney pain symptoms listed, visit your doctor as soon as possible to determine the root of the problem. You may find your condition is treatable if a kidney stone or infection is the cause of your kidney pain. If your primary care physician can’t find the cause, they may refer you for more testing or specialized care.

If you have chronic kidney pain that lasts more than six months or interferes with work, school, and other important activities, schedule an appointment with us. Our highly trained urologists can help determine the cause of your kidney pain and suggest customized treatment that’s right for you.

Kidney Pain Causes

Kidney stones and infections are among the leading causes of kidney pain. However, injury to the kidneys as well as other types of illnesses may cause kidney pain.

Examples of kidney pain causes include:

  • Kidney infections—These are a type of urinary tract infection (UTI) that travels to one or both kidneys.
  • Kidney stones—These form in your urinary system when you have high levels of certain substances in your urine that crystalize and stick together.
  • Kidney cysts—These are fluid-filled pouches that may be harmless or indicate a more serious, underlying condition.
  • Polycystic kidney disease—This is a condition in which multiple kidney cysts grow within the kidney, possibly hurting the kidney’s function.
  • Kidney cancer—Also known as renal cell carcinoma, this is when kidney cells become cancerous and form tumors.
  • Trauma to the kidney—This includes blunt force trauma from a car accident or sports injury, or penetrative injuries such as a stabbing or gunshot wound.
  • Renal vein thrombosis—This is when a blood clot forms in one or both renal (kidney) veins.
  • Nutcracker syndrome—This is a disorder in which the renal vein has pressure on it, causing pain and other symptoms.
  • Short or injured ureters—Short or injured ureters may cause urine to flow backward into the kidneys and put you at increased risk for infection and pain.
  • Loin pain hematuria syndrome—Chronic injuries to your kidneys (e.g., multiple kidney stones) may cause this disorder that comes with severe, long-lasting pain around your flanks (side of the body between your hips and ribs).

Kidney Pain Treatment

Kidney pain treatment depends on the root cause of your kidney pain. In some cases—like for a small, mild kidney stone—we may send you home with orders to rest, hydrate, and relax as the stone passes. In other scenarios, more aggressive treatment or surgery may be required.

To diagnose the problem causing kidney pain, your doctor may order a urine test to check for infections or conduct an ultrasound or computed tomography (CT) scan for a closer look. An ultrasound uses sound waves to produce images of the inside of your body, while a CT scan produces a series of X-rays to create detailed pictures of your organs, bones, and other structures. Once your healthcare provider has diagnosed the cause of kidney pain, he or she will start you on the right treatment plan.

Kidney pain treatment includes:

  • over-the-counter pain relievers,
  • antibiotics,
  • surgery to remove kidney stones, or
  • a nerve block (an injection that blocks the nerves that send pain signals to your brain).

Never try to treat kidney pain on your own unless under the guidance of your healthcare provider. Seek advice from your doctor when determining the best treatment for any type of kidney pain you experience.

Renal Autotransplant For Chronic Kidney Pain

For a select few candidates, renal autotransplant (RAT) is the only solution to address their chronic kidney pain. During the RAT procedure, our transplant surgeons will remove the kidney that's causing pain and transfer it to a different part of your body. Implanting the kidney to a new location disconnects the kidney to its nerves and stops the pain.

Patients who are ideal candidates for renal autotransplant surgery often have chronic kidney pain caused by the following conditions:

  • kidney injuries,
  • short or injured ureters,
  • loin pain hematuria syndrome, or
  • nutcracker syndrome.

Find a Urologist

Kidney Pain vs. Back Pain

Since your kidneys are located toward your back, it’s challenging to figure out where the pain is coming from—your back or your kidney. Back pain tends to be more inconsistent than kidney pain. It could either affect the center or both sides of your lower back. Our urologists will determine whether kidney pain or back pain is at the root of your symptoms during an initial evaluation. 

During your first appointment, your doctor will discuss your medical history with you to understand the source of the pain. He or she will want to know what triggers your pain and how different movements make pain better or worse. Your doctor will likely perform a physical exam by testing reflexes, nerve and muscle strength, and abdominal tenderness. Depending on the physical exam, your provider may order additional testing to see what’s going on inside of your body.

Make an Appointment with Our Urologists

Please contact the University of Utah Health urology team at 801-213‑2700 to schedule an appointment. Our multidisciplinary team of providers can help assess your condition to determine its cause and the best way to treat your kidney pain.

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