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Why are kids getting kidney stones?

Sherri Kuhn writes about raising teenagers, the perils of a clean home, wistfulness over babies, and anything else that makes her laugh (or cry) in the years between changing diapers and wearing them. With a son just starting college and...

10- to 16-year-olds with kidney stones

You wouldn’t expect kids to have kidney stones — seems like something your grandpa suffers from. But the number of kids affected by kidney stones has increased in recent years, and genetics is only one of the reasons.
Tween drinking water

Kidney stones have the reputation of being extremely painful, some even say more painful than childbirth. But we also usually associate kidney stones with older people, not kids.

What is causing kidney stones to be more common in kids, and what can parents do?

What are kidney stones?

Kidney stones are solid chunks of substances normally found in urine that become highly concentrated. When stones form, they may stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract and become stuck, blocking the flow of urine. Small stones can pass out of the body with little or no pain, but larger stones tend to get stuck in the urinary tract. This can block the flow of urine, and cause severe pain.

Causes of kidney stones

According to the National Institutes of Health, substances normally found in urine — like calcium, magnesium, oxalate and phosphorous — can become highly concentrated and cause kidney stones for several reasons.

  • Stagnant urine may collect in pools due to defects in the urinary tract, causing stone-forming substances to settle together into stones.
  • An anatomic abnormality of the urinary tract accounts for up to one-third of children who have stones.
  • Genetics are a factor in kidney stones, so a tendency to form stones can be hereditary. Not drinking enough water — or drinking the wrong types of fluids, like soft drinks — may cause substances in the urine to become too concentrated.
  • Too much sodium in the diet may cause an increase in kidney stones. Some doctors feel that increases in childhood obesity and a less active lifestyle may be contributing to the increase in kidney stones in children.
  • Urinary tract infections introduce different types of bacteria into the urinary tract that break down urea — a waste product that the kidneys remove from the blood — into substances that can form kidney stones.
  • Metabolic disorders can lead to kidney stones in children. Metabolism is the process of breaking down food and utilizing the nutrients, while removing the wastes that remain. There are several disorders that can cause kidney stones in children.

Why are we seeing these in children?

Pascale H. Lane, M.D. is a pediatric nephrologist who deals with pediatric kidney stone patients. She is also a professor of pediatrics at the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center. We asked if, in her experience, there has been an increase in kidney stones in pediatric patients in recent years. “The rate of kidney stones in children seems to be on the rise in recent years,” she shares. “Familial factors, such as extra calcium in the urine, can cause children to develop stones. Sodium and calcium handling in the kidney are linked, and excess sodium in the diet can promote stone formation as well,” she shares. “Obesity is also associated with kidney stone risk. The recent rise in stones may be due to sodium intake from processed foods and the rise of childhood obesity.”

What should parents be aware of?

According to Dr. Lane, parents should be diligent about making sure their children are taking in enough fluids throughout the day. “The most important prevention for kidney stones is drinking lots of fluid,” she shares. “The urine should appear clear or pale yellow. A lot of kids do not want to use the restroom during the day, especially once they enter high school. We need to encourage them to drink more and urinate.” As a parent, you need to be somewhat aware of your child’s habits, and to make sure they are using the restroom at regular intervals. “If your child has stones, watch for sodium in the diet. Remember, sports drinks contain sodium that can promote kidney stones,” Dr. Lane adds.

Bottom line

Kidney stones aren’t something to be taken lightly. They can be extremely painful, especially in children. Make sure that your child is drinking enough fluids and urinating on a regular basis during the day.

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