Is Kidney Stone Pain Constant? Signs & Symptoms 2023

Reviewed by Dr. Maya Frankfurt, PhD

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is kidney stone pain constant
Flank pain is the hallmark of kidney stones. Photo: Team Design

Nephrolithiasis (kidney stones) is one of the most common conditions affecting the urinary tract.[1] The typical age range for kidney stones is between 20–49. Although, individuals of all ages, races, and sexes can be affected by kidney stones, they occur more commonly in men than women.

There are five types of stones: calcium stones, struvite stones, uric acid stones, cystine stones, and drug-induced stones. Thus, the main difference in the type of stone is its composition (ie. calcium stones are predominately made of calcium). Moreover, certain medical conditions, such as urinary tract infections, predispose individuals to developing kidney stones.

Severe pain is a common presenting symptom when you have a kidney stone. You may wonder if the kidney stone pain is constant. This article will answer this question as well as discuss common symptoms associated with kidney stones.

Is Kidney Stone Pain Constant?

Is kidney stone pain constant or intermittent? Kidney stone pain is not constant. Rather it comes in waves that typically last several minutes to hours. The pain experienced can not typically be relieved with a change in position and requires medical treatment for relief.

Pain can be experienced throughout the urinary system, but is most common as the kidney stone travels down the ureter, which is a thin tube that connects the kidney to  the bladder, and is passed through the urethra.

After passing the stone, all efforts should be geared toward preventing kidney stones in the future. A discussion with your doctor can identify modifiable risk factors and develop a plan for prevention.

Do You Feel Pain All The Time?

No. The symptoms of kidney stones are not constant and typically come in waves of severe pain and nausea. The pain typically begins in the upper flank and changes as the kidney stone moves through the urinary system.

Early kidney stone symptoms can mimic many different diseases and immediate medical attention is needed. Your doctor will often order various lab tests and imaging tests to help confirm the diagnosis of a kidney stone[2] and rule out other conditions. Seeking early treatment is important to prevent the development of complications from kidney stones. Knowing the early warning signs are important to obtaining timely treatment.

Early Warning Signs Of A Kidney Stone

  • Pain in the back or flank not relieved by changes in body position.
  • Experiencing a sharp, burning sensation while urinating.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • An abnormal cloudiness or smell to the urine.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased difficulty passing urine.

What Does Having Kidney Stones Feel Like? 

is kidney stone pain constant
Kidney stones cause crampy pain that comes and goes. Photo: Shutterstock

People with kidney stones typically feel intermittent severe pain in the abdomen and flank (along one side of the back below the rib cage but above the waist) areas. The intermittent pain is due to renal colic.  These are spasms of the ureter as it tries to pass the stone. Other symptoms of kidney stones include nausea, vomiting, fever, chills, and malaise.

Kidney stones develop when the urine within the kidney becomes oversaturated with a particular mineral, such as calcium oxalate. The mineral begins to stick together and eventually aggregates into a stone that must be passed through the urinary tract. Depending on the size, the pain of passing a kidney stone can vary between completely painless to causing excruciating, severe pain.

Developing kidney stones form within the small collecting ducts in the kidney. Small kidney stones can easily pass into the ureter which is a muscular tube connecting the kidney to the bladder.

As the muscles of the ureter contract, a sharp pain is experienced within the flank which resolves as the muscles relax. Once in the bladder, kidney stone symptoms typically resolve until the kidney stone is passed out of the body through the urethra. This often results in extremely painful urination.

After diagnosing a kidney stone, pain medication and hydration are the mainstays of treatment as the body passes the stone through the urinary tract. Pain relief while passing kidney stones is best achieved using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

In some cases, the stones are too big[3] to pass and require intervention for removal. This includes extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy to break the stone into smaller pieces. While passing the stone, your doctor may have you urinate into a strainer so that the stone can be retrieved and analyzed. Determining the stone’s makeup helps physicians develop a plan to prevent recurrent kidney stones.  


Kidney stones are one of the most common complaints involving the urinary tract. They are associated with severe pain experienced intermittently. Nausea and vomiting are common kidney stone symptoms, while fever and chills can indicate possible infection or complications associated with the kidney stone.

Severe abdominal or flank pain, especially combined with a fever and chills, should prompt you to seek immediate medical care from the local emergency room. The early initiation of therapy can help prevent complications such as renal failure that can occur with kidney stones.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to form a kidney stone?

Kidney stones typically form[4] over the course of several months and can remain asymptomatic during that time. However, in people with hereditary causes of kidney stones, they can form in a matter of weeks.

What are the risk factors for developing kidney stones?

Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes are common conditions that increase the risk of kidney stones. Individuals with a family history of kidney stones may have a hereditary syndrome predisposing them to kidney stones. A high protein diet, excess calcium, oxalate, and salt intake, and dehydration are common risk factors for kidney stones.

How long does it take a kidney stone to pass through the ureter?

Small kidney stones typically pass more quickly through the ureter than larger ones. However, it can still take up to eight to twelve days for a small kidney stone to clear the ureter. Larger stones can take 22 days or longer to move from the kidney to the bladder via the ureter.

How much and what should I drink when I have a kidney stone?

The best thing to drink is water. It is recommended you drink enough fluid to produce 2 liters of urine daily. Although this is difficult to estimate, drinking enough water to cause your urine to be either clear or pale yellow is often sufficient. If you are experiencing severe nausea or vomiting and are unable to keep water down, seek medical attention.

Does Flomax help with passing a kidney stone?

Yes. Flomax helps the muscles of the sphincters within the urinary system relax, which facilitates the passage of a kidney stone. Clinical studies[5] have shown Flomax to be effective in shortening the duration needed to pass a stone. However, this effect is typically better seen in patients who experience larger stones (> 5 mm).

+ 5 sources

MIDSS adheres to strict procurement guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutes, and medical associations. We work mainly with peer-reviewed studies to ensure the accuracy of the information. We avoid the use of tertiary references. You can read about how we ensure the accuracy and timeliness of our content in our editorial process.

  1. Alelign, T. and Petros, B. (2018). Kidney stone disease: An update on current concepts. Advances in Urology, 2018(3068365), pp.1–12. doi:
  2. Khan, S.R., Pearle, M.S., Robertson, W., Gambaro, G., Canales, B.K., Steeve Doizi, Olivier Traxer and Hans-Göran Tiselius (2016). Kidney stones. Nature Reviews Disease Primers, [online] 2(1). doi:
  3. Leonardo Ferreira Fontenelle and Thiago Dias Sarti (2019). Kidney Stones: Treatment and Prevention. American Family Physician, [online] 99(8), pp.490–496. Available at:
  4. Khashayar Sakhaee, Maalouf, N.M. and Sinnott, B. (2012). Kidney Stones 2012: Pathogenesis, Diagnosis, and Management. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, [online] 97(6), pp.1847–1860. doi:
  5. Thijs Campschroer, Zhu, X., Robin W.M. Vernooij and Lock, M.T.W.T. (2018). Alpha-blockers as medical expulsive therapy for ureteral stones. The Cochrane library, [online] 2018(4). doi:


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Dr. Maya Frankfurt received her Ph.D. in neuroscience and has been teaching and doing research for over 30 years. She has taught neuroscience and physiology to medical students and allied health students. Her research interests are primarily related to understanding how the brain responds to alterations in hormones, drugs, and aging. Of particular importance is the understanding of the mechanisms involved in short- and long-term memory. Although these studies are done in animals the goal is to understand the mechanisms underlying learning and memory in humans and to provide potential directions for therapy in patients with dementia. Related to this, is the attempt to understand potential sex differences and the effects of estrogen in learning and memory because women have a greater incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease than do men. The initial hormone studies led to an interest on the effects of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical used in plastics that has been shown to disrupt endocrine function, on both memory and brain structure. This research has been published in over 80 papers in peer referred journals.

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