While kidney stones were previously considered an adult issue, the number of pediatric patients with these painful stones is increasing, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. Kidney stones are collections of hard minerals that build up in the kidneys or ureters, the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder. Children as young as 5 years old have experienced kidney stones, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

While an estimated 25 percent of cases occur in people with a family history of kidney stones, the rest typically occur in children with a number of risk factors, including:

  • Being overweight.
  • Eating excess salt.
  • Eating foods high in fructose.
  • Eating foods high in oxalates, a mineral that can form kidney stones with calcium to create the most common kidney stone type.  These foods include tea, dark chocolate, spinach, and nuts.
  • Eating a significant amount of processed foods, such as pre-packaged baked goods or smoked meats.
  • Lack of proper hydration.

Symptoms to alert you that your child may be experiencing a kidney stone can include:

  • Back pain unrelated to an injury.
  • Changes in urinary consistency, such as bloody or cloudy urine.
  • Symptoms associated with a urinary tract infection (UTI), such as fever, urgency, or frequency.
  • Pain when urinating.

A physician can diagnose kidney stones by conducting a thorough medical exam. In most instances, imaging scans such as an ultrasound or a CT scan may reveal kidney stones. Ultrasound is preferable because it does not involve radiation exposure, but a CT scan may provide a more accurate diagnosis.

While kidney stones are not typically a long-term medical concern for pediatric patients, they can cause extreme discomfort and lead to UTIs. Treatments for children with kidney stones are typically the same as for adults. Encouraging water intake can help your child pass the kidney stone. In rare instances, a physician might use non-invasive lithotripsy, which uses sound waves to break up the stones in the kidneys. If these interventions do not work, surgery to remove the stone is often indicated.

Making lifestyle choices, such as drinking plenty of water, lowers the risk of recurrence. Other steps to prevent kidney stones include avoiding foods high in salt, such as processed foods, pre-packaged meals, canned soups, and sports drinks. Among overweight children, taking steps to lose weight, including exercise and diet, can help to prevent kidney stones.

Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, April 2019

Takeaways

  • Kidney stones are hardened masses that can block urine flow and cause anything from discomfort to extreme pain.
  • Kidney stones are diagnosed during a medical exam.
  • Some kidney stones may require surgical intervention to prevent extended blockage of the kidney.

References

  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Kidney Stones Occurring More Often in Children.
  2. National Kidney Foundation. Kidney Stones.
  3. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Kidney Stones in Children.

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