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Health Break: Kidney stones becoming more prevalent in children

Dr. Craig Collison, of Mount Nittany Physician Group
Dr. Craig Collison, of Mount Nittany Physician Group

Kidney stones are often thought to only affect older men and women. Though this is mostly true, the diagnosis of kidney stones has risen in children in recent years.

A kidney stone is a solid mass that is formed in the kidney when abnormal substances in the urine become highly concentrated. Kidney stones can either stay in the kidney or travel down the urinary tract.

Kidney stones, on average, measure a quarter- to a half-inch in size, but can grow up to several inches. Kidney stones in children are about the same size as kidney stones in adults, though children’s organs are much smaller, which can lead to higher levels of discomfort.

Children who have kidney stones may experience pain with urination, blood in the urine, a sharp pain in the lower back or abdomen, or nausea or vomiting from the pain. The pain can last either a short time or for several days. Children who have small stones that easily pass may not experience any pain.

Drinking large amounts of water can help smaller stones pass without additional treatment. Larger stones may require treatment by a family physician or urologist.

Treatment options for larger kidney stones in children can include surgery or shock wave lithotripsy, in which shock waves pass through a person’s body to break the kidney stones into smaller pieces that can be more easily passed. Lithotripsy is safe and does not cause kidney damage. This treatment normally requires anesthesia, but can be performed in an outpatient setting.

Two of the main causes of kidney stones in children are lack of fluid intake and high sodium diets. According to the American Heart Association, foods that contribute high amounts of sodium in children’s diets include pizza, bread and rolls, cold cuts and cured meats, cheese and savory snacks. Sports drinks also contain a high amount of sodium. Additionally, obesity, defects in the urinary tract and genetic factors can also play a role in the occurrence of kidney stones.

To help prevent the formation of kidney stones, make sure your child drinks enough water each day. Try to limit your child’s intake of soda and sports drinks. Meals and snacks should be low in sodium. Keeping kids active can also help prevent kidney stones. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be physically active at least 60 minutes each day.

If you suspect that your child may have kidney stones, contact your pediatrician right away.

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