Renal Colic

What is renal colic?

Renal colic is severe pain in your lower back or sides.


What causes renal colic?

Renal colic is caused by a blockage in your urinary tract. The urinary tract includes your kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. Ureters carry urine from your kidneys to your bladder. The urethra carries urine to the outside when you urinate. The most common cause of a blockage in the urinary tract is a kidney stone. Kidney stones form in your kidneys and may move into your ureters. You may have kidney stones in one or both of your kidneys or ureters. Blood clots, ureter spasms, and dead tissue may also block your urinary tract.

What are the signs and symptoms of renal colic?

Renal colic pain is usually on one side, but may be on both sides of your lower back. The pain may start quickly, come and go, and become worse over time. You may have any of the following:

  • Severe low back, abdominal, or groin pain

  • Pain when you urinate

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Feeling the need to urinate often, or right away

  • Urinating less than what is normal for you, or not at all

  • Fever

How is renal colic diagnosed?

You may be given contrast dye before some of the following tests to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • Blood tests check kidney function or look for infection.

  • Urine tests check kidney function.

  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show a kidney stone or other causes of your pain. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is renal colic treated?

  • Medicines can help decrease pain and muscle spasms. You may also need medicine to calm your stomach and stop vomiting.

  • Surgery may be done to remove a blockage. Surgery may also be done if you have an infection or your kidneys are not working correctly. Ask your caregiver for more information about surgery.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink liquids as directed. This will help decrease your pain and flush blockages from your urinary system. Ask your caregiver how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. You may need to drink about 3 liters (12 glasses) of liquids each day. Half of your total daily liquids should be water. Limit coffee, tea, and soda to 2 cups daily. Your urine should be pale and clear.

  • Strain your urine every time you urinate. Urinate into a strainer (funnel with a fine mesh on the bottom) or glass jar to collect kidney stones. Give the kidney stones to your caregiver at your next visit.
    Look for Stones in the Filter


  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include fruits, vegetables, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. You may need to increase the amount of citrus fruit you eat, such as oranges. Ask your caregiver how much salt, calcium, and protein you should eat.

  • Avoid activity in heat. Heat may cause you to become dehydrated and urinate less.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have fever.

  • You need to urinate more often than usual, or right away.

  • You see a stone in your urine strainer after you urinate.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You cannot stop vomiting.

  • You see new or increased bleeding when you urinate.

  • You are urinating less than usual, or not at all.

  • Your pain is not getting better even after you take your medicine.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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