UTI or a kidney stone? Symptoms similar, and both need to be checked out

A urinary tract infection (UTI) and kidney stones can have similar painful symptoms, and both need a medical professional’s attention.

A urinary tract infection (UTI) and kidney stones can have similar painful symptoms, and while it’s important to know the difference, any pain in your urinary tract requires treatment from a medical professional to prevent more serious complications.

UTIs are less common in men and require in-person medical attention for urinalysis. In women, UTIs are more common and, while routine for some women, need a review by a medical professional for appropriate treatment. Women can also discuss a UTI through a Norton eCare video visit.

While there is not always a clear-cut difference, the question of whether you may have a UTI or kidney stone often can be traced to the type of pain. UTI pain in women typically starts in the lower abdomen around the pubic bone. Kidney stone pain tends to be more in the back or side of your lower torso.

UTIs tend to cause a burning sensation when urinating. A kidney stone’s pain is sharper and stabbing. Blood in your urine is more typical of kidney stones.

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UTI symptoms

Talk to a health care provider if you have the following symptoms.

  • Increased urgency and frequency of urination
  • Pain or burning during urination
  • Low-grade fever (below 101 F)
  • Changes in the color or odor of urine, including cloudy, murky or bloody urine
  • Pressure, pain or stabbing feeling in the lower abdomen

UTIs start when bacteria enter the urethra from outside the body. The bacteria source can be sexual activity, the rectum or something else. A UTI can move from the urethra to the bladder and the kidneys.

Antibiotics typically are the first line of treatment for a UTI. Over-the-counter urinary pain relievers can help with symptoms in the short term.

Kidney stone symptoms

  • Sharp, stabbing pain while urinating
  • Sharp pains in your back, side, lower abdomen or groin
  • Blood in your urine can be pink, red or brown
  • Constant need to urinate
  • Inability to urinate fully, if at all
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea, vomiting and fever

A kidney stone can be as small as a grain of sand. The stones form in your kidneys and with treatment, rarely cause permanent damage. Small kidney stones can pass in your urine, causing little or no pain. A larger kidney stone can become lodged in your urinary tract, blocking or impeding the flow of urine and causing pain and bleeding.

Your health care provider may ask you to allow a small kidney stone to pass and attempt to collect it for further analysis to identify the mineral that caused it. Treatments for a larger kidney stone often involve pain medication combined with techniques using shock waves to break the stone into smaller pieces. Some stones require minimally invasive removal. Drinking plenty of water is the most important step you can take to prevent kidney stones and UTIs. Knowing what type of kidney stone may be causing your issues — calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate, uric acid or cystine — can help you choose the right dietary changes to help prevent recurrence.

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