Doctors are seeing a significant increase in the number of children suffering kidney stones.
While pediatric urologists don’t yet know the reason for the increase, there are things parents can do to help protect their children and themselves.
"We have definitely seen an increase in the number of children diagnosed with kidney stones,” said Blake Palmer, M.D., a pediatric urologist with OU Children’s Physicians. “Pediatricians are doing a great job of identifying these children now and referring them for treatment, which may account for some of the increase. However, better diagnosis alone cannot explain the overall increase in kidney stones in children."
Texas researchers found that kidney stone frequency, or urolithiasis, increased by about 12 percent a year during an eight-year period that ended in 2007. The findings were presented at a recent meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
"There are factors that increase the risk of developing kidney stones,” Palmer said. “Diets that are high in oxalate, animal protein and sodium can increase your risk of developing some types of kidney stones. Not consuming enough fluids, especially water, can also put you at risk."
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Oxalates are naturally-occurring substances that are found in our bodies and in some foods, including spinach, okra, leaks and collard greens, among others. The majority of kidney stones are calcium oxalate stones.
In another study, researchers found the highest incidence of kidney stones in children occurred during the late summer months when temperatures are highest. Palmer said dehydration almost certainly plays a role then. He also noted that stones are most common in the Southeastern United States.
“Sometimes there may be an underlying cause when a child develops a kidney stone, but sometimes a child develops a kidney stone for unknown reasons,” he said. “Children who have experienced a kidney stone are at the highest risk of developing a stone in the future.”
Bretton Springer of Yukon was 21-months old when she was diagnosed with kidney stones in June. She had recently experienced a severe urinary tract infection and also had kidney reflux, a condition in which urine flows back from the bladder into the kidney during urination.
The normally active child was so sick she had to be hospitalized. She’s better now but her parents closely monitor her diet.
“It was an extremely hard situation,” said the girl’s mother Kristen Treadaway. “We will always have to pay close attention so it doesn’t happen again.”
Palmer said appropriate care, education and follow-up are important with these patients.
"When a child experiences a first kidney stone, we will do a stone analysis and full metabolic work up on that child to determine if there is an underlying cause. This also helps us better treat and take steps to reduce the risk for future kidney stones."
While more research is needed to better understand why the incidence of kidney stones has increased significantly, doctors know that some people hold beliefs about kidney stones that are wrong.
"There is a misconception that high intake of calcium creates kidney stones, but we know that if the body does not get enough calcium, it will take it from the bones and you can still develop kidney stones,” Palmer said. “A normal intake of calcium is important for a child’s bone development and does not typically increase the risk of developing kidney stones."
To prevent kidney stones, Palmer suggests children drink lots of water, maintain a normal intake of calcium and protein, and consume a diet that is low in oxalate and sodium.
Palmer said his goal and that of fellow pediatric urologists at OU Medicine is to work with referring pediatricians and family physicians to help ensure the best care for children with urologic disorders.
“We want them to know that we have the resources to assist with their patients when kidney stones or other urologic issues arise."
Blake Palmer, M.D. OU College of Medicine OU Children’s Physicians
Kristen Treadaway Mother of patient Bretton Springer
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