When to Go to the ER for Kidney Stones

When to Go to the ER

Mar 1, 2024


Kidney stones are a common and painful condition that affects millions of people each and every year. While kidney stones can often be treated at home, there are times when knowing when to go to the ER for kidney stones is necessary.

The emergency medical experts from Complete Care are here to discuss when you should go to the ER or urgent care for kidney stones and what the kidney stone ER protocol is, so you can know what to expect during your visit.

Before we go deeper on the subject, if you suspect that you have kidney stones, you should head to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • bloody urine
  • Pain when urinating
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Severe pain

What is the main cause of kidney stones?

Kidney stones are hard deposits of minerals and salts that can form in the kidneys when there is an imbalance of water, salt, and mineral water in your urine. As the stones grow in size, they can lead to severe pain and other symptoms.

Kidney stones typically occur when you’re drinking less water than what your body needs, which is something many of us are guilty of. People in warmer climates who sweat more are often more susceptible as they require more water to stay hydrated. However, there are many other factors that can increase your risk of developing kidney stones, including:

The most common type of kidney stone is made of calcium oxalate, but it can also be made of other substances such as uric acid or struvite. Kidney stones, depending on their cause and make-up, can develop over weeks or months.

Symptoms of kidney stones

How can I check myself for kidney stones? Symptoms of kidney stones most often include:

  • Severe abdominal, back, or left side pain
  • Severe pain in the groin or genitals 
  • Painful urination 
  • Blood in urine
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea or vomiting 

It’s important to note that small kidney stones can pass on their own without medical intervention, but it will not be pleasant. Passing a kidney stone can be extremely painful, even if your symptoms are mild.

How long should I wait for a kidney stone to pass? 

How long a kidney stone takes to pass varies from person to person and depends on factors such as the stone’s size and location. While some stones may pass within a few days with adequate hydration and pain management, others may require medical intervention. If left untreated for too long, kidney stones can enlarge and become infected, which can pose a number of dangerous health issues. 

How do you know when a kidney stone is serious?

When should you go to the ER for kidney stones? In addition to the symptoms above, you should visit the emergency room immediately if you have:

  • A fever higher than 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit, as a high fever coupled with chills can be a clear sign of infection (keep reading: How does the ER treat high fever?).
  • A burning sensation when you urinate, are having difficulty urinating, or are unable to urinate at all, as this could be a sign of a blockage caused by a kidney stone. 
  • Cloudy, pink, or foul-smelling urine, which can be a sign that there is blood or bacteria in your urine.
  • Intolerable or severe pain in your abdomen that is not relieved by over-the-counter pain medication, as this could be a sign of a larger or more complicated kidney stone that may require medical intervention (keep reading: When to go to ER for stomach pain).
  • Certain medical conditions that make passing a stone more dangerous, such as diabetes or decreased kidney function.
  • A history of kidney stones and have experienced complications in the past.  

If you’re unsure of whether you should go to the ER or urgent care for kidney stones, an urgent care will be able to help you manage pain and mild symptoms, whereas an emergency room will be able to handle more severe symptoms and will likely have the equipment available to provide you with a more accurate diagnosis. 

Can the ER do anything for kidney stones?

Absolutely! Once you get to the emergency room, a healthcare professional will evaluate your symptoms and medical history. Kidney stone ER protocol will likely include a physical exam, blood work, and imaging tests to determine the size and location of the kidney stone, which may include an X-ray and/or a CT scan of your abdomen and pelvis. Once confirmed, you’ll be prescribed medications to help alleviate the pain and manage your symptoms as the stone passes.

In some cases where the kidney stone has grown too large, surgery may be required. When this is the case, you can be administered a non-invasive shockwave treatment procedure (lithotripsy) to remove the enlarged kidney stone or a ureteroscopy, where a small scope is used to remove the stone.

How do you prevent kidney stones from forming?

To lower your risk of kidney stones, you should drink the suggested amount of water per day. For the average adult, this should be eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. If you live in a warmer climate or exercise often you should increase your daily water intake to stay hydrated. You can also be mindful of your salt intake and choose foods and beverages that have lower sodium levels to further reduce your risk for kidney stones. 

Obesity can also raise your risk of kidney stones. If your BMI is within the obese range, you can talk to your doctor about making the changes necessary to achieve a healthy weight for your body type and lower your risk.

Experiencing painful kidney stones? Complete Care has got you covered.

​​Kidney stones can be a painful and uncomfortable experience, that in most cases can be treated at home. However, it’s important to know when to go to the ER for kidney stones in case you experience symptoms that are more severe. If you experience severe pain, difficulty urinating, or signs of infection, come to a Complete Care emergency room as soon as possible. 

Our freestanding emergency rooms are fully equipped with digital imaging services such as X-rays and CT scans that may be necessary for determining your treatment. With our low wait times, you won’t have to deal with severe pain for long — we will get you in, out, and on the mend as soon as possible. 

We have multiple locations in Texas (Austin, Corpus Christi, Dallas/Fort Worth, East Texas, Lubbock, and San Antonio) and in Colorado Springs that are open 24/7 to care for you and help alleviate your kidney stone symptoms. Passing a kidney stone is never fun, but it can be a lot more manageable (and a lot less scary) when you’re in our capable hands. 

The BEST experience I’ve ever had medically. Hands down. I have severe anxiety when it comes to needles and came in with kidney stone pain which is spooky enough. Dr. King and her staff were so kind and patient, and got me all the scans and blood work needed while comforting me through my phobia. I’m on my second visit here, and couldn’t for better. The facility is extremely clean, quiet, and it’s a very fast trip! Little to no wait time! Front desk is extremely welcoming and did a great job!

Bri N. | Satisfied Patient

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