How to prevent kidney stones

In the past few decades, kidney stones have become common in young children and teens. While kidney stones affect a small number of children overall, the condition can be very painful and stressful for a child. How can parents help prevent kidney stones in their children?

Kidney stones develop when particles become concentrated in the urine and turn into solid crystals. If these crystals become stuck in the ureter (the tube which drains the kidney to the bladder), the urine is blocked and stretches the kidney. Eventually, the ureter stretches enough for the stone to travel farther down the ureter. If it becomes stuck again, the pain will return. This is why the pain usually comes and goes. Once the stone reaches near the bladder, the pain moves from the back to the lower stomach and may cause bladder irritation (urinary frequency and urgency).

What causes kidney stones?

Many different factors increase the chance of developing kidney stones. If your family has a history of kidney stones, your child’s likelihood of developing them increases.

“About half of the children I see with kidney stones have a family history,” said Ahmad Mohamed, M.D., pediatric urologist with Norton Children’s Urology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine.

Additionally, what a child eats and drinks plays a role in developing kidney stones.

“High-sodium diets that include processed food and fast food put children at risk for kidney stones,” Dr. Mohamed said. “High levels of salt in the diet increase calcium levels in the urine.

“High-protein diets also can cause issues,” Dr. Mohamed said. “There are many popular high-protein diets out there, but if too much protein is ingested, it can lead to an increase of acid in the urine. The acid can decrease levels of urinary citrate, a helpful chemical that prevents kidney stones.”

Norton Children’s Urology, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine

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Lastly, not drinking enough fluids can cause kidney stones. “If your child isn’t drinking enough fluids during the day, the urine can become very concentrated,” Dr. Mohamed said. “The urine becomes dark, and the risk for developing crystals increases because there’s less fluid available to dissolve them.”

How to prevent kidney stones from developing

If your child experiences kidney stones, prevention is the best defense. Here’s what you can do:

  • Make sure your child stays hydrated. Drinking enough water helps prevent crystal formation that leads to kidney stones. It’s recommended that a child should drink a minimum of half their body weight in ounces of water every day. For example, if your child weighs 60 pounds, drinking 30 ounces of water every day is recommended. Your child’s urine color will point to whether or not they’re staying well hydrated. Dark or bright yellow urine tells you that they need to drink more water. Pale or colorless urine is ideal to decrease the risk of kidney stones. Also, if it’s extremely hot or cold outside, make sure kids are drinking enough. Kidney stone risk increases during temperature extremes due to high levels of dehydration.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Make sure your child eats appropriate amounts of protein, salt and calcium to help prevent kidney stones. Children who experience kidney stones should have no more than 2,000 milligrams of sodium per day. While calcium in the urine is considered bad, calcium in your food actually helps prevent kidney stones. Making sure your children get enough calcium and protein for their age is crucial.

Kidney stone symptoms –– how to spot

Kidney stones can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Severe pain in the side and back, below the ribs
  • Pain that radiates to the lower abdomen and groin
  • Pain that comes in waves and fluctuates in intensity
  • Pain during urination
  • Pink, red or brown urine
  • Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Persistent need to urinate
  • Urinating more often than usual
  • Fever and chills if an infection is present
  • Urinating small amounts

Seek immediate medical attention if your child experiences the following:

  • Pain so severe that he or she can’t sit still or find a comfortable position
  • Pain accompanied by nausea and vomiting
  • Pain accompanied by fever and chills
  • Blood in urine
  • Difficulty passing urine

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