Common health scares generally involve the usual suspects: hearts, heads, lungs, and stomachs. Because we spend so much time focusing on the health and wellness of our largest vital organs, other important parts of our bodies are easily overlooked. The kidneys, for instance, aren’t as famous as their blood-pumping or oxygen-gulping cousins, but they’re every bit as important and equally susceptible to disease, discomfort, and even cancer. 


What are the kidneys, after all? What challenges do they face and how can we identify the signs and symptoms of common kidney ailments? UAB Medical West takes a minute to remember these un-sung organs while demonstrating the most common causes of kidney pain and discomfort.


What Do Our Kidneys Do?

Simply put, our kidneys are the filters of our bodies. Blood flows through the kidneys which, in turn, filter out toxins and waste. These harmful substances are then excreted as urine to keep our blood full of vitamins, nutrients, and little else. 


Most Common Causes of Kidney Pain & Discomfort

As always, an ultimate diagnosis is best left to a medical professional. If you or someone you know is having kidney issues, reach out to us today at (205) 481-7000.


Kidney Infections

Also called pyelonephritis, kidney infections are a common kind of urinary tract infection (UTI). Lower back pain is the most common symptom of a UTI, and pain may spike during urination.


Other frequent symptoms of kidney infections include: 


- Cloudy or odorous urine

- Chills

- Fever

- Fatigue

- Poor appetite

- Frequent urination

- Blood in urine 

Treatment for Kidney Infections

Like other infections, UTIs are treated with antibiotics. Your doctor will prescribe the correct course of action to quickly and comprehensively reverse your infection.


Kidney Stones

Stones are the big bad wolf of kidney trouble. According to the National Kidney Foundation, nearly half a million people visit emergency rooms for kidney stones each year. On average, 1 in 10 Americans will experience kidney stones in their lifetime. 


Ultimately, there are four kinds of kidney stones: calcium oxalate, uric acid, struvite, and cystine. These substances are frequently found in urine or taken in through specific diets, lack of exercise, and infrequent hydration. Some of us even have a genetic predisposition to contracting kidney stones, making the issue a constant, recurring battle. 


The typical symptoms of kidney stones are:


- Pain in the back or sides

- Sudden or sharp abdominal pain

- Painful urination

- Bloody urine

- Infrequent or difficult urination

- Nausea & vomiting

 Treatment for Kidney Stones

Thankfully, for common issues there are usually numerous treatment options. For smaller stones, hydration, IV fluids, and pain management techniques can combine to help you pass the stone naturally. For larger stones, shockwave therapy may be required to break the mass apart while making it easier to pass. 

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD)

Occurring at nearly the same rate as kidney stones, PKD is a hereditary disease that causes cyst clusters to develop in the kidneys, gradually compromising their function. As cysts develop, the kidneys enlarge, causing complete failure in some patients as early as age 60. Unfortunately, PKD cannot be cured, though its symptoms can be managed.


Frequently, PKD causes the following symptoms:


- Pain in the back or abdomen

- Swollen abdomen

- High blood pressure

- Fatigue

- Bloody urine

 Treatment for PKD

Treatments for PKD vary in intensity as the disease progresses. In the early stages, lifestyle and dietary changes can help manage the more severe symptoms. Together with medication, many of the worst and most uncomfortable side effects can be slowed. In later stages, dialysis and renal replacement therapy may be necessary. As a last resort, kidney transplantation may be recommended.

Kidney Cancer

Like too many other vital organs, the kidneys are not safe from cancer.


There are several cancers that affect the kidneys, including: 


- Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC)

- Transitional Cell Carcinoma

- Renal Sarcoma

- Wilms Tumor


According to the Cleveland Clinic, renal cell carcinoma is the most common form, mostly affecting people aged 65-74 and twice as likely to develop in men as women. Thankfully, survival rates for kidney cancers are encouraging. The American Cancer Society estimates that 93% of patients survive 5 years after diagnosis when suffering from localized kidney cancer. 

Treatments for Kidney Cancer

Thankfully, kidney cancer has many treatment options depending on your age and the spread and stage of cancerous cells. Among the successful treatment options, you’ll find:


- Surgery

- Ablation

- Radiation Therapy

- Targeted Drug Therapy

- Immunotherapy

- Chemotherapy 

Think About Your Kidneys

It’s natural to spend most of your concern on the flashiest vital organs, but you shouldn’t forget about your kidneys. Like your heart, brain, and lungs, kidneys are vital organs that we just can’t live without. If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms listed above, don’t panic. Find the nearest UAB Medical West health center near you and get these lesser-known heroes the attention they deserve.



Lower back pain? History of kidney stones? Let UAB Medical West help.

 Kidneys are critical filters for your bloodstream—nothing short of necessary and life-sustaining. To give these little-considered organs their due, pay attention to pain during urination, pain in your sides/abdomen/back, and any other symptoms of discomfort. To get your kidneys checked, reach out to UAB Medical West by calling (205) 481-7000 today or contacting us online. Proudly protecting kidneys in Hueytown, Hoover, Bessemer, McCalla, Vance, and other communities, UAB Medical West is here to help.