dave-mittlemanPediatricians and urologists across the country have seen a jump in the number of children and young adults suffering from kidney stones. Once rare for doctors to see a young patient with the disease, doctors are now treating children on a weekly basis. Many Chinese children who consumed milk tainted with melamine developed kidney stones. However, American children are developing stones for a different reason: experts are blaming childhood obesity and high-salt diets.

Kidney stones have been described as one of the most painful experiences of ones life. The pain occurs when the stone moves from the kidney through the ureter to the bladder. Stones can range in size from a grain of salt to larger than a pearl, while the ureter tube is only as thick as a single strand of hair. The stone, which is irregularly shaped and often has sharp edges, scratches the ureter tube and causes it to vibrate as it tries to get to the bladder. Often compared to the pains of childbirth, kidney stones cause severe, debilitating pain in the lower back region of the body. This pain is usually accompanied by nausea, blood in the urine, and reduced urine output due to blockage. However, younger children may experience a duller pain or mere stomachache.

Although some types of stones are hereditary, the majority of stones are caused by diet. The two major players are too much salt and not enough water. Kidneys are in charge of getting rid of excess salt, and when there is too much salt it becomes concentrated in the kidney and forms a stone. Children’s diets these days are full of salty food and drink such as french fries, all processed foods, fast food, and Gatorade. Additionally, children on average do not drink enough water. Water dilutes the salt in the urine and stones do not typically form in urine that is diluted. Some doctors are also blaming childhood obesity, which is linked to the high-salt, high-fat diet. However, active and fit kids can also develop stones. Those individuals should drink extra water to ensure their body is getting enough water to prevent stone formation.

Most stones will pass with no complications within a few hours. However, if the stone is too large, causes infection, or blocks the flow of urine, there are a few options for removal. If the stone is close enough to the bladder, ureteroscopy can be performed by inserting an endoscope through the ureter to grab the stone. Lithotripsy is performed on large stones by using high-energy sound waves to break the stone into smaller, easily passable stones. Additionally, a stent may be placed in the ureter to enlarge the tube allowing the stone to pass with ease. All of these are minimally-invasive procedures. These procedures, along with kidney stones, can be prevented by drinking a sufficient amount of water (recommended 3.5 quarts so you pass 2.5 quarts of urine per day) and staying away from high-salt foods. If stones are common in your family, talk to your doctor to figure out what the composition of your stone is and what you can do to minimize its development.