New aches and pains can be a sign of a life well-lived. Back pain, for instance, is relatively common as you get older, but it could be something more. If you feel a pain deep in your back on one side, you may, in fact, be experiencing kidney pain. Luckily, your body will let you know what’s going on in most cases, providing you with plenty of warning and time to get things checked out.
Kidneys are fist-sized organs located under the lower part of your ribcage. Their primary function is to filter waste out of the bloodstream and rid the body of it through urine, along with other fluids.
Since your kidneys are located near a lot of other muscles, bones, and organs, it can be tough to identify what is causing your discomfort. Take note of your symptoms and contact your doctor immediately if you feel that you’re experiencing kidney pain.
How do you know it’s kidney pain?
Sometimes, it can be difficult to distinguish between kidney pain and back pain, but there are a few key indicators to look out for. Consider the location, severity, and behavior of the pain to determine what the underlying issue could be.
Kidney-related issues often start with a dull, constant ache on your right or left side, toward your back. It will likely be located just under the ribs, higher than back pain, which typically impacts the lower back. This deep pain will also be very tender and irritated when bumped or hit and could radiate all the way to the inner thigh or lower abdomen. The exception to this would be a kidney stone, which causes sharp, shooting pain in the back.
Some other symptoms that could accompany kidney pain are nausea, vomiting, pain in the groin, excess or painful urination, blood in your urine, fever or chills. If you have any combination of these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.
What causes kidney pain?
Since your kidneys are the primary filtration system for the body’s blood supply, there are a number of reasons that you could be in pain:
- You could have a urinary tract infection (UTI), which is an infection that impacts any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys. The infection of the kidneys is a condition called pyelonephritis. This is treated with antibiotics, so it’s important to tell your doctor if you have any sign of a UTI.
- You could have developed polycystic kidney disease, which causes cysts to grow in and damage your kidneys. This condition is inherited and could develop early in life or during adulthood, depending on which form you have.
- You could be experiencing a blood clot in the connecting veins, a condition called renal vein thrombosis.
- If the pain is sharp and debilitating, you could have a kidney stone. These are hard mineral and salt deposits that form inside your kidneys and cause severe pain until they are passed through urine.
- You may be in the early or progressive stages of chronic kidney disease (CKD), a condition identified by the loss of kidney function over time. This requires immediate attention and treatment to prevent or slow down the condition’s progress.
When should you get tested?
As soon as you have identified your discomfort as kidney pain, or if you are unable to determine where your pain is coming from, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Based on your medical history and physical exam results, it may be worth looking into a few blood tests to determine how healthy your kidneys are.
Your doctor may start by testing your glomerular filtration rate (GFR). This test measures the level of creatinine in your body, which is a waste that is produced when we build up muscles. The results can let doctors know how well your kidneys are functioning to filter this waste out of your blood. GFR levels can determine your risk for chronic kidney disease, or tell you what stage you are in if it has already developed.
Your doctor can also test your blood sugar levels, the health of your lipids and other factors that play into the health of your renal system with a few simple blood tests. When it comes to your kidneys, it’s always better to be safe to ensure nothing more serious is going on.
Listen to your body when it begins to feel new pains. While it could be a simple sign of aging, it could be more serious. Staying on top of your regular tests and exams can also help prevent unnecessary pain or conditions from worsening over time.
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