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Kidney stones - Diagnosing kidney stones

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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Your GP will usually be able to diagnose a kidney stone from your symptoms and your medical history (particularly if you have had kidney stones before).

Your GP may suggest a number of tests including:

  • blood tests to check that your kidneys are working properly, and to check the levels of substances that could cause kidney stones, such as calcium
  • urine tests to check for infections and pieces of stones
  • an examination of any stones that you pass in your urine

You can collect a kidney stone by urinating through some gauze or a stocking. Having a kidney stone to analyse will make your diagnosis easier, and may help your GP to determine which treatment method will be of most benefit to you.

If your pain is severe and not controlled by painkillers, or if you have a high temperature as well as pain, you may be referred to hospital to see a urologist (specialist in treating urinary problems).

Imaging

You may be referred to a hospital for an imaging test. A number of different diagnostic techniques may be used to help confirm the diagnosis, or to identify precisely where a kidney stone is. These include:

  • X-ray: an imaging technique that uses high-energy radiation to show up abnormalities in your body tissue
  • an ultrasound scan, which uses high-frequency sound waves to create an image of the inside of your body
  • computed tomography (CT) scan, which takes a series of X-rays of your body at slightly different angles and uses a computer to put the images together
  • an intravenous urogram (IVU) (also known as an intravenous pyelogram, IVP), where dye that shows up on X-ray is injected into a vein in your arm so that, as the kidneys filter the dye out of your blood and into your urine, the X-ray image highlights any blockages

IVUs used to be the preferred imaging method, but now CT scans are thought to be more accurate. The imaging technique you have may depend on what is available at your local primary care trust. 

Glossary

  • Bladder: The bladder is a small organ near the pelvis that holds urine until it is ready to be passed from the body.
  • Pain: Pain is an unpleasant physical or emotional feeling that your body produces as a warning sign that it has been damaged.
  • X-ray: An X-ray is a painless way of producing pictures of inside the body using radiation.
  • Blood: Blood supplies oxygen to the body and removes carbon dioxide. It is pumped around the body by the heart.
  • Vein: Veins are blood vessels that carry blood from the rest of the body back to the heart.
  • Kidneys: Kidneys are a pair of bean-shaped organs located at the back of the abdomen, which remove waste and extra fluid from the blood and pass them out of the body as urine.
  • Intravenous: Intravenous (IV) means the injection of blood, drugs or fluids into the bloodstream through a vein.
Medical Review: April 17, 2012
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