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Take steps to slash kids’ risk for kidney stones

Posted 6/13/2016 by TAMAR SPRINGEL, MD
Pediatric Nephrologist, UH Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital
Assistant Professor, Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine

Tamar Springel, MD

Tamar Springel, MD

The pain strikes suddenly, does not let up and usually comes with a wave of nausea and vomiting. An increasing number of kids and teens have experienced the agony of kidney stones. Now health experts have concerns about their long-term health.

In the short term, kidney stones can lead to urinary tract infections and bone fractures. By adulthood, kids who pass them may be prone to poor heart health and chronic kidney disease. Doctors are not totally sure why, but think it could be that having stones decreases the kidney’s function. They also suspect that problems with how the body uses calcium, which forms kidney stones and can harden arteries, might play a role.

Diet, hydration play key roles

One study shows boys and girls ages 10 and younger now have double the risk of developing kidney stones as they did 15 years ago. Teen girls already faced the greatest risk – and they also saw the biggest spike in cases. Another report found an estimated one in 685 children admitted to the hospital each year were diagnosed with kidney stones.

Doctors cannot put a finger on the reason for the rise. “Changes in kids’ diets may play a role,” says Tamar Springel, MD, a pediatric nephrologist with University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s. “Many young people overdo it on sodium and do not get enough calcium – a recipe for stone formation. Others may not drink enough water, another risk factor.”

Help for your kid’s kidneys

Problems with diet or fluid intake contribute to most cases of childhood kidney stones. “Encourage your child to drink less soda – the sugars it contains have been linked to stones – and plenty of water,” suggests Dr. Springel. “This keeps things flowing through the urinary tract. School-age kids should aim for five cups per day, while teens may need up to 11 cups.”

What to watch for

Take steps to slash kids’ risk for kidney stones

Children experience kidney stones similarly to adults. Keep an eye out for these signs:

  • Pain when urinating
  • Blood in urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever and chills
  • Sharp pain in back or lower abdomen

The constant or severe pain in the back or side may move down into the groin as your child passes the stone. Younger children may just complain that their tummies hurt.

Call a pediatrician if your child develops these signs. Larger stones, which can block the urinary tract, may require hospital treatment.

Treatment options

Small stones often pass on their own. For larger stones, treatment includes drinking even more fluids to flush out the stone. Your child may need an IV to receive them or medication to decrease pain.

Once the immediate threat passes, the doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, medications or other steps to prevent future problems.

Curious about kidney stones? Learn more by browsing our health library at Rainbow.org/AskRainbow.

Who can help?

Two types of specialists treat children for kidney stones:

  • A pediatric nephrologist, who specializes in treating kidney disorders in children
  • A pediatric urologist, who specializes in treating children with issues involving the genitals and urinary tract

These specialists can stand guard over your child’s kidney health from infancy through his or her teen years, sometimes even up to young adulthood.

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