Kidney Pain Symptoms and Causes

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When people think they're having kidney pain, they're usually talking about flank pain, which is pain in the back between the lowest rib and the buttock. And, while true kidney pain can be experienced in this area, pain in the flank does not necessarily mean it is coming from the kidney. Other causes of flank pain include muscle strain, degenerative disease of the lumbar spine, fracture or infection of the spine, shingles, and problems in the back of the pelvis.

The kidney can be painful from infection or injury. Infection of the kidney is known as pyelonephritis. This type of flank pain usually occurs on one side and is dull in character. Symptoms and signs that accompanyy kidney pain include fever, infection such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or as bleeding or pus in the urine. It is also possible to have signs of a UTI without kidney pain in an infection of the lower urinary tract. Flank pain may also be felt when there is traumatic injury to the kidney.

Bleeding in the kidney, whether due to trauma or other conditions, is another cause of pain originating in the kidney. In addition to injury, bleeding disorders or blood clots can sometimes cause hemorrhage into the kidney.

Other possible, but less common, causes of kidney pain include polycystic kidney disease, horseshoe kidney (a congenital abnormality of the shape of the kidney), kidney cancer, blood clots in the veins from the kidneys (renal veins), and a lack of blood flow due to arteriosclerosis of the arteries to the kidneys (renal arteries).

Kidney stones are another common cause of flank pain, but this pain usually does not truly arise in the kidney. Rather, the pain of kidney stones most commonly develops because the stones block a portion of the urinary tract, usually the ureter that connects the kidney to the bladder. The pain from a kidney stone is usually sharp and severe and may come in waves. This is known as renal colic.

If you experience flank pain along with fever or blood in the urine, it is important to seek medical attention right away. You should also seek medical care if your flank pain is severe or is persistent or if you have signs of a urinary tract infection without flank pain.

Medscape Reference. Causes of Flank Pain.
National Kidney Foundation. How Your Kidneys Work.

Last Editorial Review: 6/6/2014


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