Which patients with renal colic should be referred?

Anil Xavier, Alexander P Maxwell

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1 Citation (Scopus)


Around 1-2 people per thousand present with an acute episode of pain caused by renal stones each year. Renal colic is classically sudden in onset, unilateral, and radiates from loin to groin. Renal pelvic or upper ureteric stones usually cause more flank pain and tenderness while lower ureteric stones cause pain radiating towards the ipsilateral testicle or labia. Other common symptoms include nausea and vomiting, haematuria and irritative LUTS. A febrile patient with renal colic requires immediate hospital admission. Symptoms suggestive of renal colic along with a positive dipstick for haematuria have a reported sensitivity of 84% and specificity of 99% but it is important to consider other differential diagnoses. An NSAID is preferred over an opiate drug as an initial analgesic choice as the NSAID can help reduce ureteric spasm. Diclofenac has the best evidence base for this class of analgesic. About 90% of stones will pass spontaneously and thus it is often appropriate to manage renal colic at home. Patients with signs of peritonitis, systemic infection, septic shock as well as those whose diagnosis is unclear should be referred urgently to hospital. Patients who are systemically unwell with renal stones are more likely to have an infected and obstructed urinary tract system that needs urgent imaging and possible drainage. All patients who are managed at home should have renal tract imaging within a week by fast track referral to radiology or as an urgent urology outpatient referral as per local guidelines to rule out an obstructed urinary system. Patients with recurrent stones should be advised to maintain a copious fluid intake (>2 L/day) to reduce the concentration of the urine. A reduction in salt intake (ideally
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)15-7, 2
Number of pages3
JournalThe Practitioner
Issue number1737
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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