Kidney stones at urgent care

Kidney Stone Basics

Apr 24, 2024 Urgent Care Share:

It can be tricky to talk about bathroom issues. But if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort of any kind, it’s important to pay attention to that pain.

Kidney stones can be one source of urinary discomfort. And if you’ve never experienced kidney stones before, it can be hard to know exactly what to do.

This guide is designed to provide you with clear, actionable information to help you manage and navigate this painful condition.

Kidney Stone Facts

Kidney stones are hard mineral and salt deposits that form in the kidneys when the balance of water, salts, minerals, and other substances in your urine changes. While they start off small, kidney stones can grow larger and move into other parts of the urinary tract, including your ureters, bladder, and urethra.

Kidney stones, which really do look like small stones, can range in size from under 2mm to 20mm or larger. The smallest stones can pass through the urinary tract unnoticed, while larger stones can cause significant pain or complications. Kidney stones larger than 10mm are unlikely to pass through your urinary tract without medical intervention.

Kidney Stone Signs and Symptoms

Kidney stone symptoms can vary depending on the size of the stone, its location, and whether it obstructs the flow of urine.

Severe pain is the most common symptom of kidney stones and it can occur in various locations. This pain, which is felt in the side of the abdomen, below the ribs, and can radiate to the lower abdomen and groin, is often intense and comparable to childbirth in its severity. When the stone reaches the junction between the bladder and the urethra or is passing through the urethra, it can also cause pain during urination.

Other symptoms of kidney stones include:

  • Changes to urine
  • Urinary urgency and frequency
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills

Risk Factors for Kidney Stones

Several factors can increase the likelihood of forming kidney stones, including dietary habits, lifestyle choices, and certain medical conditions.

Some risk factors for developing kidney stones include:

  • Lack of fluids or dehydration
  • Diets high in sugar or sodium
  • Over-consumption of foods containing oxalates or animal protein
  • Obesity
  • Family history of kidney stones
  • Certain medications, such as diuretics, calcium-based antacids, and certain supplements taken in excess

Kidney Stones and UTIs

Kidney stones can mimic the symptoms of a urinary tract infection. Both conditions can cause pain during urination, frequent or urgent urination, and discomfort in the abdominal area. However, kidney stone pain is usually more severe than the pain associated with a UTI. UTI pain is often described as a burning sensation.

If you have any urinary pain or abdominal discomfort, don’t ignore or minimize your symptoms. While smaller kidney stones will pass without medical intervention, an untreated urinary tract infection can lead to serious complications, especially if the infection spreads or becomes systemic. Any changes or pain associated with your bathroom visits are worth noticing.

When to go to Urgent Care for Kidney Stones

You may not be able to immediately tell the difference between kidney stones and a UTI, but your provider can. When you visit an urgent care doctor with kidney stone symptoms, your provider will obtain a brief history of your symptoms and may ask about your diet, fluid intake, lifestyle habits, and any previous urinary issues.

Your urgent care doctor will also perform a physical exam. Your provider will palpate (or feel) your abdomen to check for tenderness, especially on your sides and your lower abdomen. Your doctor can also check for pain by tapping on your back over your kidneys.

Laboratory testing is also a key part of the diagnostic process. Urine tests, or urinalysis, can test for both kidney stones and urinary tract infections. For kidney stones, your provider will analyze urine for crystals, red blood cells, or an abnormal pH level. For urinary tract infections, your provider will analyze your urine for signs of infection, such as the presence of white blood cells, bacteria, or nitrates.

Blood tests can help assess kidney function and check for signs of infection. If your urgent care doctor suspects kidney stones, your provider may order imaging studies. Ultrasounds can detect larger kidney stones or stones located in the kidney or bladder, while CT scans can detect almost all types of kidney stones regardless of their size and location.

Once your provider determines the cause of your discomfort, they can develop a treatment plan.

Most cases of small kidney stones (less than 5mm) can be treated at home. The stones are painful as they move through your urinary tract, but most kidney stones will eventually pass without intervention. It’s important to stay hydrated when attempting to pass a kidney stone.

Your provider may prescribe non-opioid pain relievers to help you manage the pain. Some patients may also receive medications such as alpha-blockers to help pass the kidney stone more quickly and with less pain.

If you have larger kidney stones (6mm or larger) or your symptoms are severe, your urgent care doctor may refer you to a urologist for further evaluation and treatment.

Severe Symptoms of Kidney Stones

If your provider directs you to care for your kidney stones at home, you’ll also be instructed to watch for further complications.

Signs that you may need additional medical care include:

  • Severe pain: Pain that is unbearable or impairs your daily activities, even while taking over-the-counter or prescription pain relievers
  • Obstructions: Difficulty passing urine or you have blood in your urine
  • Signs of infection: Fever, chills, nausea, or vomiting can all indicate the presence of an infection

Contact your provider immediately if your kidney stone symptoms escalate. Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room if you cannot urinate at all, you can no longer hold down fluids, have excessive blood in your urine, or are lightheaded or passing out.

Preventing Kidney Stones

If you have a history of kidney stones or are at increased risk of developing them, there are a few things you can do to prevent or limit their formation.

Staying hydrated is the most effective way to prevent kidney stones. This helps dilute the substances in urine that lead to stones. But if you have a personal or family history of kidney stones, the best thing you can do is have regular check-ups with your primary care doctor. Your doctor can help monitor your condition and may prescribe medications to prevent their formation.

Kidney stones can be painful, but you don’t have to navigate them alone. An urgent care doctor can help make the process of passing kidney stones more comfortable and less overwhelming. Providers at MedHelp urgent care clinics in Birmingham are compassionate, caring, and experienced in treating all your urgent conditions, including kidney stones and urinary tract infections. All of our clinics boast a CLIA-certified lab on-site with imaging services as needed.

Experienced and Compassionate Urgent Care

Get care for your urgent medical needs at MedHelp Urgent Care Clinics in Birmingham. Staffed by experienced and compassionate providers, our urgent care clinics are open seven days a week with extended hours on weekdays.