At some point of our lives, we would have experienced back pain in the region below the ribcage. Not all the back pain has significance. If it is associated with other symptoms back pain can be due to kidney disorders and the pain is felt mostly in one side of the body. Flank pain is pain experienced on the back in the area below the ribs and upper abdomen. Sometimes the pain may radiate towards the center portion of the abdomen.
There are many causes of flank pain and not all of them are related to kidney issues. For some people flank pain occurs when kidney stone moves into the ureter. Flank pain is not a matter of concern, if you are experiencing it temporarily. You need to get medical attention if the pain is severe or consistent and associated with other symptoms like nausea/vomiting, dizziness, fever and blood discharge in urine.
Flank Pain Causes :
Several factors can cause flank pain and some of them are discussed here.
In addition, flank pain can be caused by dehydration (loss of water balance), spinal arthritis, spinal fracture, disc degeneration, shingles, and pinched nerve in your back, pancreatitis, pneumonia and inflammatory bowel disease.
1. Kidney Issues
Kidney disease, kidney infection and kidney stones can trigger flank pain. Normally excess of fluid and other toxic particles are filtered from the blood and excreted in the form of urine. But sometimes calcium particles get piled up forming a large mass which cannot be flushed out through urine. These particles can get accumulated in the organ causing excruciating pain in the pelvic region moving towards the groin.
Sometimes, calcium stones moves in the path of urinary tract and enters the ureter (small tube that transports urine) blocking normal output of urine. This condition can cause urinary infection and burning pain while passing urine. In rare cases urine can be of reddish brown color indicating bloody discharge. This is accompanied with other symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting.
Bacteria and other micro-organisms can grow in large numbers in the kidney leading to infection. This can also cause flank pain.
2. Bladder Stone
Urine output gets blocked from the exit point of kidneys due to bladder stone. There are two tubes one on either side of kidneys to transport urine to the bladder which is then expelled through urethra. For some people stone particles gets build up in the ureter blocking the tube that expels urine from the kidney. In medical terms it is called as obstructive uropathy.
Kidney stone, bladder stone, small injury, scarring of tissues in the bladder, and enlargement of prostate gland can cause blockage of ureter. This condition can cause mild to moderate flank pain on your lower back region. It can cause increased visits to the toilet. Even then the volume of the urine output remains the same. Urine would be of different color having tint of red or brown and would be foul smelling. It can cause other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and sudden increase in blood pressure.
Vermiform appendix is a small organ having the shape of your thumb finger which is found in the right end of abdomen. Sometimes, bad bacteria outgrows in number inside the appendix causing inflammation and pus formation. Increase in size of appendix can exert pressure on the neighboring organs leading to pain. Swelling of appendix and rupture is known as appendicitis which is a medical emergency.
In rare cases appendix can get ruptured draining its contents of bacteria and pus directly into the abdomen. Leakage of pus into the abdomen can cause complications warranting surgical intervention. Appendix would be totally removed from the colon surgically to prevent any complication.
Appendicitis can cause flank pain along with other signs like abdominal bloating, mild fever, loss of appetite, constipation or diarrhea and nausea. Usually mild cramps would begin on the back of abdomen and intensity of pain would grow over time.
4. Urinary Tract Infection
Any micro-organism can cause UTI causing irritation and burning pain while urinating in addition to flank pain. Mild to moderate cramp can be felt on the lower abdomen and on the back if the urinary tract infection is severe and left untreated. Often it is accompanied with symptoms of sudden urge to urinate even when the bladder is empty.
Kidney cancer and bladder cancer can trigger back pain with other symptoms. Tumor can grow anywhere in the kidneys or even in the bladder. Like any other cancer, kidney cancer can cause symptoms of weight loss, fatigue and blood discharge while urinating.
Rare form of kidney infection known as pyelonephritis can cause swelling of kidneys with severe flank pain along with other signs. If left untreated it can be mortal.
Symptoms Of Flank Pain :
Flank pain can range from mild to very severe depending on the causative factor. It can be inconsistent and sometimes can be regular. Flank pain without any other symptoms is not a matter of concern. In case of serious problem flank pain is accompanied with other symptoms like dizziness, nausea, vomiting, mild to moderate fever, diarrhea or constipation and burning pain while passing urine. Sometimes spills of blood can be seen with urine.
You need to check with your doctor if you have any of the above signs along with flank pain. Dehydration can cause flank pain with symptoms like extreme thirst, rapid heartbeat, sticky mouth, profuse sweating and confusion.
- Your doctor would complete physical examination and check for any other symptoms in addition to flank pain. He would collect complete medical history of the patient before ordering for any tests.
- Laboratory tests like blood culture, urine culture will be done to check the levels of sodium and creatinine. Imaging tests like X-ray and ultrasound scan can give clear picture of the underlying problem.
- In case of doubt, your doctor would inject special dye into your vein to get accurate picture of the test result detecting any problem in the underlying organs and tissues.
- Abdominal CT scan or MRI will be requested in case of any problem.
Flank Pain Treatment :
Treatment for flank pain is based on the underlying issue. You can take complete rest for mild form of flank pain. Alternatively you can do physiotherapy for pelvic muscles to get relief from muscle spasms. For pain due to infection suitable antibiotics are prescribed. In case of severe infection, the patient would be hospitalized and given antibiotics intravenously.
Spinal arthritis can cause flank pain which can be treated with combination of medications and physical therapy. Anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed in such cases.
For flank pain arising due to kidney stones, medication is the first line treatment. The person will be encouraged to drink plenty of fluids so that stones can be flushed out through urine. Lithotripsy is done for treating large sized stones which involve passing of high frequency waves directly into the stones to break them into pieces which can be excreted in urine. Surgery is done only for severe complicated cases. Several non-invasive procedures are available for removing kidney stones.
Stent is provided on the ureter to make it wide open so that kidney stones can easily pass through it. Medications are prescribed to tolerate pain and reduce swelling. For treating urinary tract infection, based on the intensity of infection, suitable doses of antibiotics are recommended.
In case of appendicitis, surgery is the only option wherein inflamed appendix is removed. You can prevent further infection and progress of disease by paying attention to other symptoms apart from flank pain. Any change in the color and nature of urine is definitely a matter of concern. You need to check with your doctor if the urine is foul smelling or with fish smell and with blood. Any delay in getting proper medical attention can worsen the problem.
Flank Pain Home Remedies :
- Mild form of flank pain/back pain can be managed at home, if not accompanied with other serious symptoms.
- OTC pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken for managing flank pain.
- Take maximum rest at home without stress and you will feel better next day.
- Drink plenty of water so that any stone blockage will be flushed through urine.
- Reduce or stop drinking alcohol.
- Avoid having sex if you have flank pain.
- Eat balanced diet and do regular exercises.