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Kidney stones

Find out how kidney stones are diagnosed. Imaging tests, such as a computerised tomography (CT) scan, can be used to help confirm the diagnosis or locate a kidney stone.

Your GP will usually be able to diagnose kidney stones from your symptoms and medical history.

It will be particularly easy if you've had kidney stones before.

You may be given tests, including:

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

You can collect a kidney stone by urinating through some gauze or a stocking.

Having a kidney stone to analyse will make a diagnosis easier, and may help your GP determine which treatment method will be of most benefit to you.

If you have severe pain that isn't controlled by painkillers, or if you have a high temperature as well as pain, you may be referred to a urologist (a specialist in treating urinary problems).

Imaging tests

If you're referred to hospital for an imaging test, a number of different techniques may be used. Imaging tests can help confirm the diagnosis, or identify precisely where a kidney stone is.

These tests include:

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

CT scans are now often used because they're thought to be more accurate (IVUs were previously the preferred imaging method). The imaging technique you have may depend on what's available at your local hospital.

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.
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