What is flank pain?
Flank pain is a symptom anyone can experience, being suggestive of an underlying health issue. The pain can be present on either side of the torso, underneath the ribs and sometimes extending to the lower part of the back. In rare cases, it can reach the lower abdomen. Flank pain can be temporary or permanent.
The flank pain can be acute, chronic or recurrent, with person experiencing a different degree of severity and duration. It can radiate towards the back or the genital area, in the latter case being suggestive of ureteral or renal pelvis involvement.
Less specific symptoms, such as a fast pulse, fever, nausea or vomiting, can be suggestive of an infection. Left untreated, this infection can cause septicemia and premature death. In some cases, the flank pain is not a primary symptom, as it happens with renal tumors. The flank pain can, in rare cases, be present in analgesic abusers.
It can either be caused by an organ dysfunction or it is related to the musculoskeletal system. In some cases, the underlying cause can be severe, affecting vital organs (kidneys, pancreas). Identifying the correct cause is the first step towards prescribing the right treatment. Did you know that you can use a health app, such as CareClinic, to track flank pain? Such apps are quite useful, as you will be able to read below. (R)
What are some of the most common causes leading to flank pain?
Muscle injuries can lead to flank pain, especially in those who train on a regular basis (overuse). Muscular tension and sedentary lifestyles can lead to strains or sprains. People who maintain the same position for a long period of time can present flank pain as well, often caused by a muscle spasm. The pain can be unilateral or present on both sides. Its intensity is not an indication of how severe the underlying condition is (R).
People who suffer from arthritis or disc hernias might also complain of flank pain. The inflammation is mainly responsible for the pain, which will radiate from the back towards the front. In rare cases, spinal fractures can cause similar pain.
Those who suffer from a pinched nerve in the back, as it happens in sciatica, might present additional symptoms. They will often complain of a sharp and shooting pain that goes as far as the leg, low back pain, numbness and tingling. The more advanced the condition is, the more difficult it will be for one to stay active.
Flank pain can be present on one or both sides, being suggestive of kidney involvement. The infection often spreads from the bladder, leading to specific symptoms. There are people who suffer from chronic kidney disease, with a genetic predisposition or as a result of additional health issues (other organs).
Common conditions that can lead to flank pain, among other manifestations, include polycystic kidney disease, urinary tract blockage, renal infarct, blood clots, kidney abscess, infection, kidney stones or bleeding.
Urinary tract infections can lead to this type of pain (uni/bilateral) quite often, being more common in women than in men. If no treatment measures are taken, the infection can easily spread to the kidneys and cause severe symptoms.
Aside from the flank pain, one might present the frequent need to urinate or have the sensation of incomplete elimination. The urination might be painful and blood might be noticeable in the urine. (R)
Liver, gallbladder & pancreas problems
Flank pain is frequently encountered in those who suffer from a blocked bile duct, with additional pain radiating towards the back. Surgical intervention is generally recommended to deal with such health issues.
Chronic liver disease and autoimmune hepatitis have flank pain as one of the most common manifestations. Treatment must be administered for the management of the symptoms, and sometimes the liver transplant remains the only solution to avoid premature death.
Aside from the pain present in the right flank, one might experience nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite, yellow skin and eyes, darkened urine, state of general malaise, pale bowel movements and fever. (R)
Shingles refers to a viral infection, which is diagnosed in those who have suffered from chickenpox. A rash accompanied by blisters appears on a nervous pathway, causing a lot of pain. It can be noticed on one flank, being more common in those of older age or in those whose immune system is compromised.
In some cases, the infection can lead to severe pain and even cause life-threatening complications. The highest risk is associated with the elderly and those who have weakened immunity, as it happens in those who have been diagnosed with HIV or other immune-related conditions.
You might not know this for a fact but dehydration can cause temporary flank pain. People who are severely dehydrated might complain of extreme thirst, experiencing headaches, dizziness, dry mouth, a fast pulse and the absence of sweat. A fever might be present, and the total urinary output is decreased.
This type of pain can sometimes be seen in those who suffer from the irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s disease, pneumonia, abdominal aortic aneurysm or appendicitis.
A correct diagnosis, the first step towards the best treatment
If you experience flank pain, in associating with other worrying symptoms, the best thing for you to do is to visit the doctor. A specialized physician will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical examination and recommend additional tests to narrow down the underlying condition(s) that might lead to flank pain.
In making the diagnosis, the doctor will ask about the location of the pain, when it began and what is feels like. Many patients describe the pain as dull or sharp. One might also have to mention how often the pain appears, for how long it has been present and other symptoms. The doctor will inquire whether the pain is related to activities or certain movements, such as bending over.
Imaging studies might be made for the kidneys, pancreas, liver or spine. The urine analysis, as well as the urine culture, might be used to detect a urinary tract infection. Blood tests can be prescribed to identify viral or bacterial infections, as well as to check the kidney and liver function. (R)
Treatment should address both the flank pain and the underlying cause
Depending on the underlying condition, the doctor will present you with a number of treatment options. Anti-inflammatory medication is generally prescribed for pain relief, with more caution in those who suffer from kidney or liver disease. Common pain medication includes naproxen, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen.
In the situation that you have been diagnosed with an infection, either affecting the kidneys, urinary tract or pancreas, you will most likely be prescribed with antibiotics.
Medication might be necessary to dissolve kidney stones, with surgery (lithotripsy) being recommended for more severe cases. One might also be prescribed analgesics and instructed to drink plenty of fluids. In the case of gallstones, surgery can be performed – either to remove these or the gallbladder altogether. Antiviral drugs are prescribed for shingles and specific medication for chronic liver disease. The liver transplant is reserved for the most severe cases.
In the case of chronic kidney disease, dialysis might be necessary until a suitable donor for a kidney transplant can be found. For muscle injuries, physical therapy is recommended, as well as the RICE protocol (rest, ice, compression, elevation). Physical therapy is also a good choice for disc hernias, with surgery being an option for more severe cases.
Those who suffer from chronic conditions affecting the kidneys, liver or pancreas, might be hospitalized. Their condition will be more closely monitored and intravenous fluids will be administered. Anti-inflammatory medication is given to those who suffer from arthritis.
The doctor might also advise one to change his/her lifestyle. For instance, one might be able to improve liver health by eating healthier. A person who suffers from muscle and joint pain induced by a sedentary lifestyle might feel better upon becoming more active.
Even though many of the conditions that lead to flank pain cannot be prevented, one might be able to maintain a good state of health through certain measures. This means an increased water intake, no alcohol, practicing safe sex and hygiene, opting for a healthy diet and staying active.
Self-care to help you deal with flank pain
If you are dealing with flank pain, the solution is to rest until you feel better. Take your medication for pain relief exactly as it was prescribed. Follow the instructions of the physician and do not take more than the recommended dose.
In case of antibiotics, take the medication as prescribed. Do not stop the treatment just because your symptoms have improved. Follow the full course, otherwise, the bacteria will become resistant to the treatment. Use cold and heat packs as needed and drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration.
How to keep track of flank pain using CareClinic
CareClinic is a health app which was developed by a team of specialists, so as to help those who suffer from various medical issues keep track of symptoms, treatments etc.
If you want to track flank pain and the associated health problems, you can easily do that with the help of CareClinic. The application is free and easy to use, with a friendly interface and plenty of beneficial features.
The first thing that you want to do is create an account within the application. There is also a web version that you can use, with similar features.
Once you have entered into your account, you can begin creating posts about the symptoms you are experiencing.
You can add “flank pain” as a new symptom, adding any other detail, such as when the symptom started, if it stopped (and when) and connect it to your health issues. You can then create additional posts for any other symptoms you are currently experiencing.
You can then move on to the “care plan” and add all of the health objectives, treatments and therapies meant to help you feel better.
Within the care plan, you can add the medication you are taking, including the dose, frequency and effects. You can set up reminders for each medication in particular and make notes on how it made you feel.
The calendar view will help you keep track of your flank pain, treatments taken for the symptom and underlying cause, and other health-related information.
At the end of each month, the application will create reports regarding your flank pain and treatments taken. You can share these reports with your physicians, adjusting the treatment as necessary.
In conclusion, it is quite easy to use the CareClinic health app for tracking symptoms of flank pain and underlying medical issues. You can use the application to record every single detail regarding your health, sharing the information with the interested healthcare professionals.
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