How Painful is Passing a Kidney Stone?

Roughly one million Americans develop kidney stones each year, and approximately 15 percent of adults in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a kidney stone in their lifetime. The pain can be throbbing to severe and some even say "worse than labor" as it is continuous, unlike a contraction that comes and goes.

"The pain is awful!" says Michael Ayalon of East Meadow, New York. "I was treated for my first kidney stone about 10 years ago while snowboarding in Colorado. The nurse who took care of me in the hospital said she had one when she was 8 months pregnant, and it was more painful than childbirth!"

Another patient, Leslie Kimball, also of New York, has passed 12 stones over 8 years. She reported: " The pain of passing a kidney stone is worse than childbirth. The pain is like taking a knife to your gut from the inside. For me, child labor was short (a mere 4-5 hours), while kidney stone pain lasted 8-12 hours on average or more."

Kidney stones can range in size from a grain of sand to larger than a golf ball.  They are a made up of a concentration of calcium, uric acid and other substances found in urine that form into solid masses. It is these masses that create an obstruction -- causing the blockage of urine in the ureter (tube that goes from kidney to the bladder). 

Kidney stones may be present for years and never produce symptoms, says staff at the Mayo Clinic. In fact, many kidney stones go unnoticed until they cause acute symptoms - specifically, when the stones grow large enough to block the flow of urine through the ureter. This is when the pain can be excruciating.

"I cringe just thinking about it. It's like passing a jagged oversized bowling ball through an extraordinarily sensitive garden hose. It's been BY FAR the most painful thing I've experienced in my life," says Barry Maher of Helendale, CA.

Many people pass small kidney stones from their bodies without any symptoms, but larger stones can be very painful as they move through the ureter, into the bladder, and out of the body.

Dan Green of Buffalo Grove, Illinois reported: "Having just gone through the process of passing a kidney stone (a 3-month ordeal), I will say now that it was the worst pain in my life, and I hope it never happens again."

According to Dr. Catherine Stack of Niagara Falls, NY, once someone has had a kidney stone attack, their chance of recurrence is high, about 75%. And, she says, the younger you are when you suffer your first attack, the more likely you will suffer again. Michael Ayalon has had kidney stones every year for the past 10 years. He had lithotripsy (a procedure that involves blasting the stone into small enough pieces so that it can pass) on two stones that were too large to pass. They eventually passed in smaller pieces after the procedure.

It is important to talk to your doctor if you have any kidney stone symptoms.

Signs That You May Have a Kidney Stone

  • Discoloration of urine or traces of blood in urine
  • Severe pain while passing urine
  • Low back pain and/or pain around the waist
  • Groin pain

The Causes

According to the Mayo Clinic, if someone in your family has kidney stones, you're more likely to develop stones. Diet can also be a factor and some dietary guidelines may help prevent stones from developing.

Guidelines to prevent kidney stones (FYI: Doctors report that these are not a guarantee, but can be helpful):

Lower your sugar intake. Research shows that a high level of sugar intake can lead to the formation of a kidney stone. Make a list of your high-sugar snacks and then make another list of healthy alternatives. Next time you shop, buy the items on your healthy alternatives list - and refrain from buying the sugar snacks.

Avoid food with oxalates. The most common type of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones, which are found in approximately 75% of all cases. Foods high in oxilates are spinach, rhubarb, chocolate, parsley, wheat flour, strawberries, beetroot, pepper and nuts.  "It is best to avoid these foods if you are prone to kidney stones," says Dr. Catherine Stack of New York. 

Stop drinking soda or other carbonated beverages. Drinking these contributes to the acidic environment that breeds kidney stones. Drink water or cranberry juice instead (see below).

Drink plenty of water. If you don't drink enough fluids, especially water, your urine is likely to have higher concentrations of substances that can form stones. For people with a history of kidney stones, doctors usually recommend passing at least 2.5 quarts of urine a day. To do this, you'll need to drink about 14 cups of water every day - and even more if you live in a hot, dry climate.

Drink cranberry juice. One of the symptoms of kidney stones is a kidney infection (because the stone can cause tears that result in infection). Cranberry juice contains an ingredient that makes it impossible for the infection to stick to the kidney, so the infection passes into the urine and out of the body. "I have passed several kidney stones," says patient Marcy Gordon of Brooklyn, NY. Now I drink organic unsweetened cranberry juice on nearly a daily basis and I haven't had a problem since."

Get regular exercise. Doctors report that people who are sedentary for a long period of time are more prone to develop kidney stones. Walk 10-15 minutes a day. You don't have to do a big workout. Light exercise is helpful.

Stress management. Some studies report that having high blood pressure can double your risk of forming kidney stones. Try a yoga class, meditation, or simple breathing exercises to help relieve stress in your life.

Empty your bladder completely. When you use the bathroom, empty yor bladder completely. Retaining urine allows more time for crystals to form and consolidate. "Basically, you want to have a clean plumbing system. A little back up can lead to big problems," advises Cindy Feuerstein, board certified nurse practitioner working in emergency and internal medicine.

Important Note: If you experience any symptoms of a kidney stone, seek medical help immediately. Kidney stone symptoms can become severe as time passes and can turn fatal if neglected for a longer duration. Diagnosing kidney stones in the early stage can help you recover more easily.


Mercola, J. Could Lifestyle Changes Help You Avoid Kidney Stones? Dr. Mercola's blog. June 9, 2009. Website:

Kidney Stones,

National Kidney Foundation. Website:

Tarkan L. A rise in kidney stones is seen in U.S. children. The New York Times (online), October 27, 2008. Website: