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Kidney Pain: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What are Kidneys?

Kidneys are bean-shaped pair of organs that form the renal system. The main function of kidneys is to assist the body throw out waste in the form of urine. They also filter blood before sending it to the heart and maintain a healthy balance of important fluids in the body. They are also important to regulate minerals in the blood, remove unwanted material from food, and produce hormones that help in building red blood cells. Coming towards the kidney's location, they are located on both sides of the spin below the rib.

The Kidney Pain

Kidney or renal pain is generally caused by three reasons: injury, infection, or deterioration of kidneys. There are two types of kidney pain: the unilateral or bilateral. In unilateral, the only one kidney is affected with pain, while in case of bilateral pain, both the kidneys are infected. These two types tell us about what is the reason behind the pain. Either it is due to the intrinsic issue, pre-renal, or post-renal causes.

How Kidneys look like

Image 1: How Kidneys look like (Picture credit: Pixabay.com)

Kidney Pain Causes

 There are various causes of kidney pain, we can divide them into four types: renal obstruction, infection, trauma, and growth. Let's discuss all kidney pain causes one by one.

Renal Obstruction

The main cause behind the renal obstruction is urinary hindrance downstream or in the kidney. It can cause unilateral pain if the obstruction is due to intrinsic reason, if an obstruction is due to ureters, it will cause bilateral pain. Similarly, any abnormality in the bladder will affect both the kidneys. Let's have a look at the health conditions that can cause renal obstruction.

The topmost reason behind renal obstruction is kidneys stones, followed by bladder stones. A UTI or Urinary tract infection, enlarged prostate, and even the pregnancy can be behind the renal obstruction.

There are few kidney pain symptoms related to renal obstruction to look for. For example, kidney swelling, sore flanks, fever, nausea, dysuria, and urinary urgency. These symptoms can change by kidney pain area and the nature of the obstruction. The majority of the kidney's pains are caused by kidney stones. Other reasons are less prominent but can aggravate in case the obstruction is not treated timely.

Kidney Infection

Kidney infection also called pyelonephritis is the next in our list of kidney pain causes. A kidney infection normally develops due to bacteria and can be unilateral or bilateral. Pyelonephritis is of two types: acute pyelonephritis and chronic pyelonephritis. Acute pyelonephritis occurs rapidly and cause severe damage. On the other hand, slow-spreading and less severe symptoms are associated with chronic pyelonephritis. Pyelonephritis normally spreads from an infection originated in ureters, urethra, or bladder.

The symptoms of acute pyelonephritis which develops within a few days are up to eight. The first symptom is kidney pain either the unilateral or bilateral. Other symptoms are fever of greater intensity, body chills, fatigue, pain during urination, bloody urine, and confusion, etc. 

On the other hand, chronic pyelonephritis is associated with low-intensity symptoms and in some cases no noticeable symptom. However, some of the symptoms include low-intensity pain in the flanks, low-intensity fever, and malaise.

Renal Tumors

Renal tumors are normally painless unless it has grown significantly. Tumors are caused due to abnormal growth in the kidney. Three of the most frequent tumors are as follows:

Renal cell carcinoma: This type of tumor normally grows first in tubules and expands to other parts of the kidney.

Renal adenoma: It is a kind of benign tumor that can expand to a very big size.

PKD: Also called Polycystic kidney disease. It is considered an inherited disorder where the benign spreads in all of the kidney.

As described earlier, renal tumors don’t cause any type of pain unless it has grown to such an extent that it started to undermine the structure of the kidney. The pain in renal tumors is mostly unilateral and associated with hematuria.

The common signs of renal cancer include continuous malaise and weight loss without known reasons. PKD is also symptoms free most of the time unless it is causing structural damages. The most common symptoms of PKD are headaches, hematuria, abdominal swelling, repetitive kidney stones, and blood pressure changes.

Renal Trauma

Kidney trauma is caused by a sudden force effect or a wound that damages the kidneys. As Kidneys are located at the exposed position, injuries are a common matter. In every ten abdominal injuries, one injury will cause injury to the kidneys. The symptoms of renal trauma include dull pain, fever, difficulty in urinating, hematuria, tachycardia, and swelling in abdominal parts.

Diagnosis of Kidney Pain

Diagnosis of Kidney Pain

Image 2: Diagnosis is important to find a better treatment option (Picture credit: Unsplash.com)

To ascertain what is causing kidney pain, only a lab or urine test is useful. Unfortunately, there is no proven kidney pain self-diagnosis test at this moment. So, we need to rely only on lab and imaging tests for this purpose.

Labs & Tests

The main kidney pain diagnosis test includes urinalysis. In urinalysis, a lab examines the chemical composition of the urine to verify kidney abnormalities, for example, extra protein and presence of red blood cells. Any abnormal value in the test will verify the underlying kidney diseases. In the case of normal values, it becomes clear that there are no kidney diseases. Beside urine tests, there are some blood tests, given follows:

GFR: Along with SCr, it finds out the blood amount being filtered by both kidneys.

SCr: This test finds out the level of creatinine being produced in the body and discharged in urine at a specific interval.

BUN: It checks the level of urea produced and excreted by kidneys through urine.

Imaging Tests

The urine and blood tests are the direct way to find out any abnormality in the functioning of kidneys. On the other hand, imaging tests provide a way to examine the performance of kidneys indirectly. Let's have a look at different imaging ways.

Ultrasounds: As its name depicts, it utilizes sound waves to produce contrast images of inside organs. This is the first most test because it being the safest and fastest way to diagnose different diseases.

CT Scan: This method uses a whole series of different X-rays to produce a clear image of kidneys. This test is perfect to identify stones, lesions, tumors, and abscesses. It is more effective compared to Ultrasounds and normal X-ray techniques.

MRI: This method utilizes a magnetic field as well as radio waves to evaluate kidneys. It is more effective as it provides finer details compared to CT and Ultrasound. 

Treatment Options

There are several methods of kidney pain treatment. Some of the ways for kidney pain relief are as follows:

options available to treat kidney’s diseases

Image 3: There are several options available to treat kidney’s diseases (Picture credit: Unsplash.com)

For Renal Obstruction

Here, the treatment's main goal is to remove the root cause of the obstruction. The treatment may involve antibiotics to remove the infection, planting a urethral catheter to drain urine or surgery for removing bigger stones. In the case of advanced hydronephrosis, percutaneous nephrostomy is the only way forward.

For Renal Infection

As most of the infections involving kidneys are bacterial and can be treated with appropriate antibiotics. The rare cases of viral or fungal infections happen in people with low immunity or with HIV. To treat renal infections, the most commonly used antibiotics include ciprofloxacin, ampicillin, and ciprofloxacin.

In the case of aggravated infections, intravenous is more useful medicine compared to oral antibiotics. For better treatment, drink more water to increase urination. This will help in cleaning both the upper and lower urinary tracts. 

For Renal Tumors

As diagnosis suggests, selective embolism may be more effective to treat the tumor. In this technique, the blood supply is stopped or reduced to control the growth of the tumor. The 2nd way to deal with the tumor is nephrectomy, which involves removing a portion of the affected kidney. The same treatment is applied to benign tumors in case they hinder vessels present inside the kidney.

Based on the spread of tumors, treatment options include radiation therapy, targeted therapy, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.

For Renal Trauma

Treatment of trauma-based pain is according to the severity of the injury. For example, less severe injuries are treated with prolonged bed rest only. For treating more severe injuries, surgical repair is required. In surgical repairs, renal stunts are used to open the closed vessels and chemical agents are used to stop bleeding.

In extreme cases where one or both the kidneys are severely damaged, a surgery known as nephrectomy is done to remove the kidneys.

Final Words

Kidney pain is among those pains that you can never underestimate. As observed, most of the people with kidney pain opt for pain killer medicines. Though these pain killers may provide temporary kidney pain relief, they are never the long term solution. Similarly, some other people drink plenty of water or cranberry juice to make their kidney healthy. The cranberry juice or drinking plenty of water may treat urinary tract infection, but they can't treat all kidney problems.

Therefore, whenever you experience sudden kidney pain, instead of using these temporary tactics, always go to a nearby relevant health facility for better treatment options.

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