The kidneys are an amazing pair of organs with two main functions: to fine-tune the amount of fluid and electrolytes in the body and get rid of waste though the urine. They are so good at their job that you can live with only one! (If, for example, you donate one to someone in need, your remaining kidney can step up to the plate and do the work of two.) However, kidney disease goes unnoticed far too often – frequently in people who have diabetes or hypertension.
There is a lot of misinformation about the kidneys and kidney disease. In the spirit of National Kidney Month, I hope to dispel three common myths about the kidneys. I hope you learn something new about these cool bean-shaped organs!
Myth #1: My back pain is caused by my kidneys hurting.
The kidneys live in the mid back, just below the ribs. As a result, many people attribute their back pain to the kidneys.
The kidneys, however, rarely hurt.
In fact, of all the commonly occurring illnesses, only two cause pain in the kidneys: kidney stones and a urinary tract infection (UTI) that spreads to the kidneys. These conditions usually cause a lot of other symptoms that wouldn’t accompany a run-of-the-mill backache. So let's flush out (ha!) some of the symptoms someone might feel if they have kidney stones or a UTI.
Kidney stones (also known as nephrolithiasis) occur when certain minerals clump together in tiny stones as the urine is formed. As a stone passes through the ureter (the passageway that takes the urine from the kidney to the bladder), it can get stuck and cause the walls of the ureter to spasm. It is this spasming that causes the pain.
The spasm pain can be very intense, but only lasts minutes to an hour at a time, and when the ureters stop spasming, the pain goes away. The pain may start in the back or side, and make its way down to the groin. Kidney stone pain is usually associated with nausea and vomiting.
The treatment consists of medications to reduce the pain and the spasms of the ureters, and, in certain cases, non-invasive surgery. Drinking sufficient amounts of water is important for preventing kidney stones.
A urinary tract infection (UTI) is an infection that usually stays in the bladder. But if it travels up to one (or less commonly, both) kidneys, it is called pyelonephritis. Pyelonephritis may cause some of the typical UTI symptoms, like discomfort with urination, but it also tends to cause fever, nausea, vomiting, and pain in the mid back – usually on one side.
The treatment is antibiotics and pain medications. In severe cases, it can require hospitalization.
If you have pain in one or both sides of your mid back, but don’t have nausea, fever, or other symptoms, the culprit is most likely a muscular strain – not the kidneys. Muscular back pain generally gets better on its own. To recover faster
And of course, if the pain is severe or doesn’t get better on its own, or for any other concerns, visit your family doctor.
Stay tuned for myths #2 and #3!
This blog provides general information which is not intended to be and should not be construed as medical advice. Talk to your family doctor about any medical concerns and to get more information on this subject.