How do kidney stones cause renal colic?

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Renal colic refers to the sharp or cramping, severe pain in the lower back that radiates to the front of the body associated with the passage of a kidney stone.
The pain usually starts suddenly as the stone moves into an area of the kidney and blocks the flow of urine. The most common first site of blockage is the ureteropelvic junction (this is where the urinary collecting system forms a funnel shape). Sharp or cramping pain is typically experienced in the lower back with some radiation of pain around to the front of the body. If the stone is relatively small, then it may continue to pass into the ureter (small channel connecting the kidney to the urinary bladder). The pain may become dull or cramping and more localized to the front of the body in the lower quadrant. As the stone continues to move toward the urinary bladder, “shooting” pains may be felt in the scrotum (men) or labia (women) and associated with the following additional symptoms:
  • Frequency of urination
  • Urgency (perceived need to urinate, although the urinary bladder is relatively empty)
  • Dysuria (burning associated with urination)
  • Hematuria (blood in the urine)
At any time during a kidney stone attack, nausea and vomiting may occur along with a loss of appetite. If the urine is infected, then a person may have a fever associated with chills. 
The most common risk factor for kidney stone disease is dehydration (lack of water intake).
Renal colic is the name doctors use to describe the intense pain of a kidney stone passing through the urinary tract. Renal colic occurs in the lower back and lower abdomen and can sometimes radiate to the groin area. Stones cause renal colic as they move through the ureter. You might experience extreme waves of pain for an hour or more. Doctors may be able to provide pain relief.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.