Kidney Pain

Everyone naturally possesses two kidneys, one on each side of your body. They are shaped roughly like – no surprise – kidney beans. Pain in your kidney is often called flank pain.

The kidneys play a vital role in the health of your body. They act as excretory organs and filter the blood, removing its waste materials. They also have a role in regulating electrolytes and hormones. Pain in the kidneys may have one of numerous causes.

Where are the kidneys located?

Since your kidneys are retroperitoneal organs, kidney pain isn’t felt just in one localized area. The pain is more diffuse, and somewhat difficult for physicians to localize. Pain in a kidney can easily be mistaken for stomach or liver pain. That’s why it’s so important to understand precisely where pain in the kidney manifests itself.

Pain in your lower back, just below your ribs in your flank, is generally attributed to the kidneys. It’s important to know what the exact location is, so that your physician can reach the correct diagnosis. Sometimes, pain in a kidney is misinterpreted by patients as ligament sprains or muscle pulls.

Kidney Surface Location in Anatomy

article-2-pic-1The surface of the location of the kidney location (at the back side of your abdomen)

Photo source:

Kidney location in abdominal pain

article-2-pic-2Kidney pain is located in the Left and Right Upper Quadrants

Photo source: HealthHype

 What causes kidney pain? 

  • Polycystic kidney

This is generally a hereditary problem, where the kidney is beset with multiple cysts. It leads to an enlargement of the kidney. The enlargement causes renal pain or flank pain. This pain is commonly experienced in your abdomen, rather than your back. In this disease, the passage of time results in an enlargement of the affected kidney.

  • Renal stones

Stones in your kidney are the main cause of the pain you may experience in the flank area. They may be caused partially by an imbalance in your minerals, electrolytes and other fluids. Renal stones can also cause you to experience blood in your urine. They must be removed, or the stones may cause renal failure.

  • Pain caused by problems in the kidney vessels

Arteriosclerosis of your renal artery can also cause pain in the kidneys. It may be accompanied by other issues, since the blood is not flowing to the kidney properly.

  • Kidney infections

Infection of the kidneys can occur and lead to numerous manifestations, as well as pain in the kidney. Infection may arise in the urinary tract and then involve the kidney. One condition that is encountered commonly is pyelonephritis. This particular infection demands immediate medical treatment.

  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)

Your urinary system includes the kidneys, ureters, urethra and the bladder. Infections in any of those organs could lead to infections in the full urinary tract. Main symptoms of these infections include:

  • Urinary frequency
  • Urinary urgency
  • Chills
  • Fever

UTIs occur in women more often than men.

  • Hydronephrosis

This illness causes your kidney to enlarge, due to a urine backup into it. It will also cause flank pain.

  • Kidneys & alcohol abuse

Some kidney problems are associated with alcohol abuse. Alcohol affects some renal hormones, including anti-diuretic hormone. Alcohol may also cause dehydration, since it increases the output of urine. In addition, alcohol raises your chances of experiencing clot formation and atherosclerosis.

  • Kidney cancer

Kidney carcinoma generally causes pain in the same region of the flank, and this is accompanied by painless blood in your urine.

Symptoms associated with Kidney Pain

If you have a disorder or disease related to your kidney(s), it may be accompanied by numerous other symptoms. Some of these other symptoms include:

  • General symptoms associated with the urinary tract, like hematurina, anuria, polyuria or oliguria
  • Change in color of urine
  • Urinary frequency or urgency
  • Painful urination
  • Nausea & vomiting
  • Upper back level stabbing pains
  • Weight loss, fever, weakness and loss of appetite
  • Development of edema and swelling of the feet, legs, hands and face, or even full body swelling
  • Radiating pain in the groin and back

Other problems you may find that come with kidney pain include:

  • Painful menstruation
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Joint pain
  • Nail abnormalities

If you have the symptoms mentioned above, you probably do have kidney disease.

Differential Diagnosis of Pain in the Kidney

If you have severe pain in the kidney region, along with other symptoms, you should consult your physician for a complete physical examination. One or more of these tests will be needed, depending on the systems that present themselves: 

  • Full Blood Count

This determines how many blood cells exist in your system, and specifically how many white blood cells. A high white cell count suggests infection. In addition, this test shows the hemoglobin amount in your blood.

  • Blood Cultures & a Urine Culture Test

These tests determine what caused an infection, if there is suspicion of urinary tract or renal infection.

  • Intravenous pyelogram (IVP)

This is an X-ray that is specifically designed for the urinary tract and kidneys. It detects the shape, size and position of the kidneys, ureters and urinary tract. It will also be helpful in locating a stone.

  • Urinalysis

This is an important test, since the urine gives your physician clues that help in the detection of the main agent of disease.

  • Abdominal X-ray (KUB)

This specific X-ray will give your physician a portrait of your kidneys, ureters and urinary bladder. It may also detect stones. Other helpful tests include an ultrasound or CT scan of your kidneys.

Treatments for Kidney Pain

  • Medical Treatment

Infections will be treated with antibiotics. Other types of treatments may be used for the symptoms. OTC pain killers may help, but they are not advised in cases of kidney problems.

  • Modification of your Diet

Unhealthy diets or diets that contain too much or too little of certain elements may be responsible for kidney stones, like foods that contain calcium oxalate. These include turnips, carrots, chick peas and cauliflower. Instead of eating these foods, include grapes, watermelon and other water-rich foods.

You should also eat foods that contain amino acids. These are protein’s building blocks, so the foods highest in amino acids are also high in protein. Of the 20 amino acids available in food, nine are the most essential, since your body is unable to make them on its own. Animal-based foods have all your essential amino acids, but plant based sources of protein may not contain high enough levels of essential amino acids.

  • Surgical Treatment

If you have kidney stones that will not dissolve using standard treatment methods, then laser treatment or surgery can be utilized to remove them.

The treatment used is based on the cause of your kidney pain. You should avoid alcohol and other factors that may aggravate your pain.


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