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Dealing with Kidney Pain

Many people experience kidney pain from a disease, injury, or other complications. While it’s important to talk to your doctor to see if your kidney pain is stemming from a serious issue, mild kidney pain can often be managed through natural remedies such as a change in diet or off the shelf medications.

Why does kidney pain occur?

Kidney pain is a symptom of complications, diseases, or injury of the kidney or its related structures. The kidneys play an important role in our bodies by filtering excess waste and water from the blood to make urine. Since the kidneys are a part of the urinary system, consisting of the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra, the health of those structures is closely tied to the health of the kidneys. Problems in any part of the urinary system can damage the kidneys and cause pain. Pain typically occurs in the “flank” or the mid to low back and side. Pain can occur on both sides of the body, but is more commonly felt on just one side. Some people also experience groin or abdominal pain.

Common causes of kidney pain

There are many possible causes of kidney pain, the most common are UTIs and kidney stones.

However, kidney pain can also be caused by:

— Kidney problems: problems or complications of the kidneys can cause kidney pain.

— Pregnancy: hormonal and physical changes during pregnancy put increased stress on the kidneys and put pregnant women at greater risk for developing kidney pain.

— Bladder infection or inflammation (cystitis): inflammation of the bladder is often caused by a bacterial infection. Bacteria from the bladder can travel to the kidneys, and cause kidney infection and pain.

— Glomerulonephritis: inflammation of the glomeruli, which filter blood. Damage to the glomeruli impair kidney function and can lead to kidney failure and pain.

— Congenital malformations in the renal system: can block urine flow and cause urine to flow backwards into the kidneys, causing damage and pain.

How to identify kidney pain

Kidney pain is often confused with back pain and medical tests may be needed to distinguish the two. The following symptoms can help you identify the cause of your pain.

Ways to distinguish between kidney and back pain:

— Consistency: while back pain often lessens depending on how you position your body, kidney pain is consistent no matter which way you position yourself.

— Location: kidney pain tends to be deeper and higher on your back, while back pain typically affects your lower back.

— Type of pain: a dull pain is often a sign of an infection, while sharp pain can indicate a kidney stone

— Symptoms: back pain can be a result of exercise or an underlying condition unrelated to the kidneys. On the other hand, kidney pain is often the result of an underlying problem. Experiencing any of the symptoms listed below can help distinguish kidney pain from back pain.

Symptoms of kidney pain

There are many symptoms that arise from kidney pain, although kidney pain itself is usually a symptom of an underlying problem (such as infection or kidney stones). The symptoms below can be helpful in diagnosing the underlying cause of your pain as well as distinguishing kidney pain from back pain.

Symptoms that can accompany kidney pain:

— Fever

— Fatigue

— Chills 

— Nausea 

— Vomiting 

— Pain during urination

— Flank pain (pain in the mid to low back and sides)

— Blood in the urine

— Constipation or diarrhea

— Rash

— Hydronephrosis

— A metallic taste in your mouth

Diagnosis

Along with evaluating your medical history and conducting a physical examination, there are a variety of tests that can help diagnose the cause of your kidney pain. These tests are designed to identify the specific cause of your kidney pain by evaluating how well your organs are functioning as well as any structural problems.

Common tests:

— Complete blood count (CBC): a blood test that analyzes different components of the blood. 

— Creatinine test: measures the amount of creatinine (a waste product of the kidneys) in the blood to determine if the kidneys are working properly.

— Blood urea nitrogen (BUN) test: measures the amount of urea nitrogen (a waste product of the kidneys) in the blood to determine if the kidneys are working properly.

— Urine test: looks for chemicals, proteins, the presence of blood, and excess white blood cells which are associated with different kidney disorders.

— Imaging test: Ultrasound, CT scans or MRIs can be used to look for kidney stones and determine if there are any structural problems blocking proper blood and urine flow.

— Pregnancy test: pregnancy can increase your risk of kidney pain and complications.

Pain management 

If you’re experiencing mild-to-moderate kidney pain, you might be able to manage your pain at home without relying on medication. Since the cause of kidney pain determines the type of remedy you need, we’ve included pain relief tips for the two most common causes of kidney pain — namely UTIs and kidney stones — as well as medications that can help.

Home remedies for kidney pain caused by UTIs:

— Stay hydrated: water helps to eliminate waste from the body and clear the urinary tract of any infections.

— Epsom salt baths: can help relieve pain temporarily by relaxing your body.

vApply heat: placing a heating pad or water bottle on the pained area for about 20 minutes can help reduce pain.

— Avoid irritants: coffee, alcohol, and tobacco are known to irritate the urinary tract and can increase kidney pain.

Home remedies for kidney pain caused by kidney stones:

— Stay hydrated: water helps to eliminate waste from the body and clear the urinary tract of small kidney stones. Also, staying hydrated can help prevent kidney stones. 

— Limit alcohol consumption: it’s recommended to decrease your alcohol intake and eliminate it completely when on antibiotics. Although some studies have shown red wine can prevent kidney problems, consult your doctor to see what they recommend.

— Avoid acidic foods: acidic foods may help break down kidney stones. Many people like to add citrus, such as lemon juice, to their water.

— Pain relievers:

Non-aspirin pain killers: aspirin is a substance that thins the blood and can be dangerous if taken when experiencing kidney pain. Use non-aspirin pain killers such as ibuprofen, Advil, and Motrin to alleviate pain. People who have poor kidney function may not be able to take these pain killers. 

Acetaminophen: drugs such as Tylenol can help reduce fever and pain associated with kidney pain. Tylenol is safer for people with poor kidney function.

Note: Individuals with kidney or renal problems should be careful not to take medications that filter through the kidneys as they may cause further damage.

Treatments

Kidney pain is a symptom of underlying kidney related problems. Therefore, treatments vary depending on the individual and the cause of their kidney pain. 

Possible medical treatments:

— Surgery: to remove kidney stones or address the problem that is blocking blood or urine flow.

— Antibiotics: treat bacterial infections such as UTIs.

— Prescription medications: for severe kidney pain due to kidney stones or other conditions, medications may be prescribed.

If you are experiencing kidney pain and are unable to manage the pain at home, seek medical attention for further information on treatment and diagnosis. Your kidneys play a crucial role in maintaining the health and balance of your body and kidney pain could be the first indication of more serious problems.

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