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Kids at Risk for Kidney Stones

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Guest blogger Ronda Kaysen: Five-year-olds are turning up at the pediatrician's office with kidney stones, the New York Times reports. An ailment that was once the domain of the middle-aged is now reaching epidemic proportions among kids.

Young girl holding her stomach

The situation is so dire that hospitals are creating special pediatric kidney stone clinics. Kidney stones occur when oxalate binds with calcium in the urine. "Passing" a stone can be very painful and sometimes requires minor surgery. Here are some ways you can keep your kids from getting stones.

Watch Out for Salty Foods. The biggest cause of stones is salt. Keep your kids (and yourself) on a low salt diet. It's not as easy as you think. Salt is that ubiquitous additive that shows up in just about everything. To keep it under control, cut down on chips, fries, processed deli meats, canned soups, packaged meals, and even Gatorade. Try cooking with less salt, too.
Drink Water. The other major kidney stone culprit is dehydration. Make sure your kids drink plenty of water. Lots of kids avoid drinking at school because they don't want to interrupt class to go to the bathroom. Tell them it's okay and make sure they drink up. Also, make sure kids drink up before and after they exercise, when they can get dehydrated.
Stay Slim. Although thin kids in great shape can get kidney stones, kids who are overweight are at a greater risk. So, if your kid is heavy, the risk of kidney stones is another reason to trim down.
Know Your Family History. Kids with a family history of kidney stones are more likely to get them. So, if they run in your family, be extra vigilant.
Steer Clear of Sugary Drinks. Sucrose, a sugary additive in soft drinks, increases the risk of stones. Drink water instead.
Avoid High Protein Diets. High Protein diets, like the Atkins diet, are popular among teens, but can increase a kid's risk for stones
Drink Milk. Even though stones are calcium deposits, consuming a lot of calcium actually helps reduce your risk for kidney stones because dietary calcium binds with oxalate before it is absorbed in your body. So make sure your kids drink their milk or eat other dairy foods.

Changing your kid's diet might feel like an overwhelming task, but use these tips for yourself, too. We're all at risk. The rate of kidney stones is increasing among people in their 20s and 30s, too.

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4 comments so far | Post a comment now
Tina November 10, 2008, 6:31 PM

My five year old has kidney stones, along with myself. I was just told by her doctor that she needs to be put on a low oxalate diet. We are already watching the sodium. Do you have any names of books that would good to read up on this. Her doctor just told me to look online, but the diets vary so much it worries me to just choose one.

SC Johnson, MD November 27, 2008, 10:34 AM

Dear Tina

Sorry to immediately be critical of one of my colleagues, but you have not been well served by your doctor. For most adults a “one size fits all” low oxalate diet works fine - not so with children. The age, growth rate, nutritional requirements, and mineral & electrolyte levels in the blood and urine must all be taken into into consideration when devising an appropriate diet for a child with, or at risk for, kidney stones.

To put this responsibity on parents by telling them to go to the internet is abdicating a pediatric physician’s duty to his/her patient.

First, you should be seeing a specialist in medical kidney disease - a nephrologist. A specialist in surgical kidney problems, a urologist, plays no part in this aspect of care. This is a metabolic problem, not a surgical one. (Be warned - many of them have a different point of view) The reason is that while 85% of kidney stones are oxalate stones, 15% are not, and it is important to make the distinction. We don’t want to be treating the wrong problem. This will involve collecting several 24 hour urine samples and analyzing the minerals and electrolytes in them. Once the correct diagnosis is made a treatment plan can be devised.

For that to be done properly requires the coordination between the nephrologist and a certified pediatric nutritionist, which all childrens’ kidney centers and stone centers have. As do all childrens’ hospitals. We can usually manage most of these children by manipulating their diets. Only in the most difficult cases is it necessary to resort to medication.

So Tina, if your child was not seen at a renal (kidney) clinic by a pediatric nephrologist, and the tests run as mentioned above, or the stone was recovered and proven to be an oxalate stone, please arrange such a visit. After a proper diagnosis is made the doctor and nutritionist will arrange a diet appropriate for your child and provide reference material for you.

SC Johnson, MD
Pediatric Nephrologist

Lori December 5, 2008, 8:21 AM

I’m 40 years old and I had a kidney stone when I was 5. Back then I had surgery that left me with a pretty large scar. I’ve never had any problems since. What are the chances of reoccurance of kidney stone for these children.

Causes of Kidney Stones March 15, 2011, 2:09 AM

Thanks for the information. I am hunting fan too and this information will help me.

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