How Do I Know If I Have a Kidney Stone?

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on December 18, 2022
3 min read

You’ve probably heard of kidney stones and how they sometimes can hurt. But pain in your abdomen and problems peeing could be signs of several different medical problems.

How can you know for sure it’s a kidney stone that ails you?

Because kidney stones can affect just about anyone, it’s important to know the signs of this common condition. They might include:

You may have one or several of these symptoms. It depends on the size and location of the kidney stone.

The only way to know for sure that you have a kidney stone is to see a doctor so they can make a diagnosis. You should make an appointment if you:

  • Can’t get comfortable standing, sitting, or lying down
  • Have nausea and serious pain in your belly
  • Notice blood in your urine
  • Have a hard time trying to pee

Be ready to describe your symptoms, including when they started. You might want to write them down, along with a list of the medications and vitamins and supplements you take.

You should also try to keep track of how much you drink and pee in a 24-hour period. If your doctor thinks you might have kidney stones, they may order one or more tests.

There are several ways your doctor can test for kidney stones. They include:

Imaging tests: Doctors have various ways of taking a peek inside your body to see what’s going on. They might try:

  • X-rays. They can find some stones, but little ones might not show up.
  • CT scans. A more in-depth type of scan is called computed tomography, or CT scan. A CT scan is a special kind of X-ray. The equipment takes pictures from several angles. A computer then puts all the X-rays, called “slices,” together into more detailed images than standard X-rays can give you. A CT scan is often used in emergencies, because it gives such clear and quick images to help doctors make a fast diagnosis.
  • Ultrasound. This test uses sound waves to create pictures of your insides.

If you have a kidney stone, these tests can help tell your doctor how big it is and exactly where it’s located.

You don’t need to do anything to prepare for an imaging test. You may be told to drink more fluids to help pass the stone.

Blood tests: These can help find out whether you have too much of certain substances in your blood, such as uric acid or calcium, that can cause stones to form.

Urine tests: These can detect stone-forming minerals in your pee or find out if you lack substances that help stop them from forming. You might collect a urine sample over the course of a day or two.

All this information is important as your doctor decides what’s the best treatment.

If the pain isn’t bad, your doctor may take a wait-and-see approach, hoping that you can pass the stone on your own. A medication called tamsulosin (Flomax) relaxes the ureter to help pass the stone.

You might need sound wave therapy or surgery for stones too large to pass or those causing damage.

Your doctor may want to study the stone once it is out of your body -- whether that’s through surgery or because you passed it while peeing. Knowing what’s in the stone may help your doctor prevent you from getting another one.