Anyone who has ever had the misfortune of enduring a kidney stone attack will tell you exactly how painful this condition can be. In fact, the pain is most often compared with the pangs of natural childbirth. This is no exaggeration or wishful thinking. The stabbing and shooting pains that accompany a major kidney stone attack can bring you literally to your knees, unable to even drive yourself to proper medical attention. While major pain-killers such as Demerol can do wonders for the immediate discomfort, a victim of a kidney stone attack must still face days of intravenous fluid treatments and possible surgical intervention before getting substantial relief. A permanent change in diet and lifestyle is often required, and the patient still faces the chance of several reoccurances over a lifetime. Prevention is the true key to avoiding serious kidney stone attacks, but heredity and gender are usually working against those who have a predisposition to kidney disease.
So what are the warning signs and symptoms of a kidney stone attack? It's difficult to be specific, because you may experience any combination of some general symptoms. Some kidney stone sufferers may feel a dull, non-descript pain in their lower back for days, while others are suddenly crippled by extremely sharp pains. These symptoms and warning signs are intended to be a general layman's guide to self-diagnosing a possible kidney stone attack, not a substitute for proper medical attention. If you feel pains that are unrelenting and strong, seek a doctor's care as soon as possible. Don't wait until the actual attack begins- a simple in-office urine test can usually diagnose a kidney stone condition long before the actual attack.
1. Medical history and gender. Although women are just as likely to develop kidney problems, the majority of kidney stone sufferers are men. Some researchers believe that a family history of kidney problems can significantly increase your own chances of developing kidney stones. Check out any known family medical history that indicates a predisposition to kidney stones. Forewarned can be forearmed. If you know that kidney stone attacks run in the family, make sure you use good preventive measures, such as increasing your non-sugared, non-caffeine fluid intake and avoiding excessive dairy consumption, especially at night. Never intentionally work your body into a state of severe dehydration, which may occur if you work long hours at a physically demanding job or spend too much time in the heat. Always take plenty of water breaks when working excessive hours. Those who are prone to kidney stone attacks should never be far from two things- a good water supply and a bathroom. Withholding urination for an extended amount of time will work against you in the long run.
2. Dull, 'toothachy' pain originating in the lower back or pelvis. This may be your first indication that something serious is developing.
The level of pain may be continuous, or it may come and go in waves. It will rarely disappear entirely. You may take an analgesic tablet or two, expecting the pain to dissipate. After a few hours or even days, the pain will most likely increase in degree and be more definite in its location. Some victims feel a definite tension in the kidney area, as if their urine was trying to get past a blockage. You may even feel a 'squirting' sensation internally, as fluids try to get past the blockage. Even if the pain is tolerable, it should never be left unchecked.
3. Fever, disorientation, general 'blahs'. Along with this dull pain in the lower back, many victims experience a general sense of disorientation and fatigue. You may feel feverish or chilled. Your thought process may become cloudier, and your energy level dramatically lower. An actual fever may or may not be present, but you still experience the same nausea and grogginess you might associate with a serious cold or stomach bug. Walking becomes more and more difficult, and the pain makes everyday tasks nearly impossible. You may experience trouble reaching above your head, or recovering from a bent position.
4. Signs of blood in the urine. If you can, observe any urine you secrete during this time of distress. You may be able to see actual blood traces in the urine, or the urine itself may be an unusual color.
If your urine is a deep orange color, you are most likely dehydrated. Any blood in the urine is cause for alarm. In combination, a dark-colored urine associated with sharp pains in the kidney region should be a red flag for you to seek help immediately. For less severe symptoms, you should dramatically increase your intake of water and/or cranberry juice. Make an appointment to see a doctor if this does not alleviate minor symptoms and you still notice unusual urine secretions.
5. Sharp, stabbing pains concentrated on one side of the lower back. If you start feeling sudden and severe pains that feel as if your abdomen was being cut open from the inside, you are most likely in the throws of a full-blown kidney stone attack. If your pain level beforehand was hovering around a 5 or 6, you'll probably jump to a 9 or 10 in a hurry. You'll want, no, demand immediate medical attention at this point. If you aren't already sitting in a doctor's office or in an emergency room, get to one immediately. This is the worst part for most kidney stone victims, even more painful than the eventual passing of the stone itself. Without the benefit of painkilling drugs such as Demerol, you'll feel a constant and radiating pain coming from your lower back and progressing through your abdomen. Many victims double over from the pain, or find very unusual positions that will ease their discomfort. Some find that lying on the floor is helpful, or sitting upside down in a chair. Once you have received a painkiller, however, the symptoms tend to become much more manageable.
So what should you expect from a course of treatment? Your first day in the hospital will be filled with urine tests and possible x-rays. The urine test will confirm the presence of blood, which will indicate a possible kidney blockage. The x-rays will pinpoint the location of the stones and their relative size. More than likely, you will be given intravenous fluids to restore your hydration level, and your diet will be restricted to non-dairy foods and non-caffeinated liquids. After a day or two of bedrest and fluids, your doctor will recommend several courses of action, depending on your individual test results. Many kidney stones are eliminated naturally, following a few days of increased fluid intake. The patient usually experiences an immediate feeling of relief as the stones, usually the size of tomato seeds, pass through the urinary tract. Others are not quite as fortunate. The doctor may advise the use of a sonic 'crushing' device that will blast the stones into manageable pieces. This treatment can leave you feeling as if you have been in a prize fight or two, but is relatively non-invasive. The final option could be surgery, where a catheter is introduced through the urethra and a hook device actually snares and removes the blockage physically. It is every bit as intrusive and exciting as it sounds. Rarely an open surgery is required to physically extract the stones through a small incision.
If all goes well, you should be back to normal within a week's time. Your doctor will advise you not to drink excessive amounts of sugary or caffeinated beverages, and reduce your calcium intake at night. You must remember to take more frequent water breaks at work, and avoid strenuous activity that could promote dehydration. Once you have had one kidney stone experience, you run a significant chance of having a few more in your lifetime. You must adhere to your doctor's advice religiously if you don't want a repeat performance of your first kidney stone attack.