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Kidney Stones Becoming More Common in Children April 6, 2010

For more information, call Rebecca Sylvester at 706/828-2394.

Kidney Stones Becoming More Common in Children

AUGUSTA, GA. (April 6, 2010) Pediatricians are reporting that kidney stones are becoming increasingly common in children.

Experts blame the increase on a diet that includes too much salt and too little water consumption, according to Beth Barranco, a registered nurse at University Hospital.

“To help keep your child from forming kidney stones, experts say you should limit their salt intake to a teaspoon a day, don't serve processed foods and make sure they drink about eight glasses of water a day, “Ms. Barranco said. “A low-fat diet will also help reduce the risk of kidney stones.”

The kidneys are fist-sized, bean-shaped organs located near the middle of the back, just below the ribcage, Ms. Barranco said. Their primary function is to filter impurities and waste products from the bloodstream. Wastes removed by the kidneys are passed on to the bladder through tubes called ureters, where they are excreted in the form of urine.

For reasons that are not completely understood, some of the substances in urine, uric acid and calcium in particular, may crystallize within the kidney, forming rock-like particles called stones. Kidney stones may be as small as a grain of sand or larger than a golf ball. Depending on their composition, they may be smooth, round, jagged, spiky or asymmetrical.

“Some stones stay within the kidney, where they often produce no symptoms,” Ms. Barranco said. “Other stones may break loose and travel down the urinary tract. The smallest, smoothest stones may pass out of the body with little resistance and minimal discomfort to the patient. Larger, irregularly shaped stones cause intense pain. They also can become lodged in the ureter, bladder or urethra, the tube that carries urine from the bladder out of the body.”

In addition to causing severe pain, a lodged stone can block the flow of urine, causing wastes to back up into the kidneys. Such a condition must be corrected swiftly, either by surgically removing the blocking stone or by nonsurgical medical procedures that break it up and allow it to pass naturally out of the body. If not, serious kidney damage and related medical problems can result.

Experts report that an estimated 600,000 people in the United States develop kidney stones each year; of them about 100,000 are admitted to hospitals for treatment. Men are roughly four to five times more likely to develop the disease than women. It is generally estimated that 10 percent of men and 5 percent of women age 30 to 50 in this country will suffer from kidney stones. Most people who develop kidney stones experience their first episode between the ages of 20 and 30. The disease usually continues throughout life, particularly in men. Kidney stones appear to be four to five times more common in whites than in African Americans.

“No one is certain why people do or don't develop kidney stones,” Ms. Barranco said. “Although the disease appears to run in families, it is unclear whether this is associated with inherited physiological factors or merely the result of shared family dietary preferences that may predispose a person to stone formation.

Some researchers suggest the mineral composition of drinking water plays a factor, although they disagree as to whether "hard" (containing excessive calcium sulfate) or "soft" (excessive sodium carbonate) water is to blame. Alcohol consumption also may play a role in stone formation, particularly among drinkers who suffer from gout, a painful inflammation of the joints resulting from an imbalance in the body's uric acid metabolism.

Some experts, noting that residents of the southeastern United States have the highest incidence of kidney stones in the country, claim temperature and body dehydration are key factors. Others say the South's popular dietary staples of green vegetables, brewed tea and fatty foods are the cause.

Most scientists agree that eating specific foods by itself won't cause kidney stones. However, many experts acknowledge that certain diets, particularly those characterized by high protein, salt, milk and animal fat intake may promote stone formation in people who are already susceptible to the disease.

The most prevalent theory is that dehydration causes an imbalance in the liquids and dissolved solids in the urine. The kidneys must maintain a proper amount of water in the body as they remove harmful waste materials. If dehydration occurs, the urine may become overloaded (supersaturated) with substances that will not dissolve in water. These chemicals and trace elements combine to form crystals which slowly build up, layer upon layer until a stone is formed. Studies suggest that drinking plenty of water may prevent kidney stones.

If you have any concerns or questions about kidney stones or need help finding a physician, contact ASK-A-NURSE at 706.737.8423 or log onto www.universityhealth.org.

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