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A guide to kidney pain: kidney scans, imaging, & more

The kidneys are the body's internal blood-filtering system and are responsible for removing toxins and excess minerals, like salt and potassium, from the blood. This keeps your body and organs functioning at an optimal level. The kidneys are also responsible for extracellular fluid retention and hormone production. Without these organs, your body would go into failure.

Researchers estimate that one in three Americans are at risk for kidney failure. Additionally, two of every five people affected by kidney disorders are unaware they have a problem. Failure to address chronic kidney failure (CKF) can result in death. If you have diabetes or high blood pressure, you are at a higher risk of kidney-related disorders. While not all kidney pain is associated with kidney failure, your doctor may order a kidney or renal scan for you to understand whether you have any signs of kidney disease.

Why do I need a kidney scan?

If you are experiencing renal distress or failure symptoms, your urologist–a doctor specializing in the kidneys, bladder, and urinary tract–may order a kidney scan.

Some of these symptoms include:

  • Swelling of the extremities
  • Back pain around the kidneys
  • Shortness of breath
  • Blood in stool
  • Fatigue or drowsiness
  • Changes in the frequency of urination

A kidney scan will identify if there are signs of kidney damage, inflammation, infection, abscess, or tumor.

What does a kidney scan show?

A kidney scan is a diagnostic imaging tool that will show the soft tissue structures and organs surrounding the kidneys. These primarily include:

  • Kidneys.
  • Ureters.
  • Bladder.

Since the kidneys and bladder are part of the same system, a kidney scan will image both organs and the ureters (ducts) that connect them. The radiologist–a doctor specializing in interpreting imaging scans–will identify any abnormalities occurring in the kidneys or bladder.

There are a few specific kidney conditions that may cause pain. Kidney pain may manifest similarly in different disorders, sometimes making it difficult to know whether you have a kidney condition (and if you do, which one). Common kidney diagnoses include:

  • Kidney hemorrhage–internal kidney bleeding.
  • Kidney tumors.
  • Kidney cancer.
  • Chronic kidney failure.
  • Kidney stones.
  • Kidney infection.

Imaging scans for kidney pain

Just like not all kidney pain is the same, not all kidney scans are the same. Your doctor may recommend a specific scan over another, depending on your symptoms.

CT scans for kidneys

A kidney CT scan, or computerized tomography scan, uses a concentrated X-ray to highlight the soft tissue structures of the kidneys and surrounding area. The procedure takes images from three different angles to generate a photo of the kidney. A kidney CT scan can identify kidney stones along with other issues. A kidney CT scan will use a contrast dye to highlight a particular tissue type. This lets the radiologist identify:

  • Kidney abscess.
  • Kidney obstructions.
  • Fluid around the kidneys.
  • Tumors.
  • Abnormal tissue growth.

Kidney MRI scan

Kidney ultrasounds

Kidney ultrasounds use sound waves to produce images of the kidneys and surrounding tissues. These sensitive scans can detect small changes in tissue types, including areas of dying tissue. Ultrasounds are excellent tools for seeing soft tissue structures. A kidney ultrasound will identify: - Blockages. - Kidney stones. - Inflammation. - Tumors. - Cysts. - Infection.

Find a kidney scan medical imaging center near me

If you require a kidney scan and are looking for a medical imaging center near you, check out scan.com's scan search tool. The easy-to-navigate directory can connect you with a diagnostic image location that serves your needs near you.


  1. https://www.kidney.org/news/newsroom/fsindex
  2. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/ct-scan-of-the-kidney
  3. https://www.mayoclinic.org/symptoms/kidney-pain/basics/causes/sym-20050902
  4. https://www.urologyhealth.org/urology-a-z/m/magnetic-resonance-imaging-(mri)
  5. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/treatment-tests-and-therapies/kidney-ultrasound
  6. https://www.genesishealth.com/app/files/public/39462ab9-6f47-43dc-8357-31cbcc872873/PriceTrans-Radiology-AveragePrices.pdf

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