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What to Know About Kidney Stones in Children

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 12, 2021

Kidney stones are small, hard deposits of mineral and acid salts formed within the urinary tract, which can block the drainage of urine and cause deep pain, sometimes nausea, and vomiting. Although kidney stones are still relatively uncommon in children, the number of cases is growing.

Types of Kidney Stones in Children

Kidney stones form when high amounts of substances like salt accumulate in the kidneys, forming crystals or a stone. Other diseases cause certain stones, but many are related to diet and nutrition. Some doctors suspect that more children are getting this condition, possibly due to too much salt in their diets.

Some types of kidney stones include:

  • Calcium stones caused by too much salt
  • Cystine stones can form in people who have cystinuria, an inherited disorder marked by increased formation of stones in the bladder, kidney, and ureter.
  • Struvite stones most commonly caused by urinary tract infections
  • Uric acid stones can occur with gout or after chemotherapy

Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones affect children in different ways. Symptoms vary from stones that cause no pain (stones that are still in the kidney and have not moved to the ureter) to stones that cause urinary obstruction, resulting in severe pain. Common symptoms of kidney stone disease include:

  • Pain in the abdomen, side, back, or groin
  • Blood in the urine
  • Frequent urination
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

Any child experiencing pain and has blood in their urine should be evaluated by a doctor even if it's just a little bit.

Cause of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones form when there is too much mineral (such as salt) in the child’s body and not enough water in their urine, often as a result of dehydration.

Some rare genetic conditions can cause the child’s body to make kidney stones. If there is a family history of stones, it makes it more likely that other people in the family may experience kidney stones.

Children who don’t or can’t move for extended periods of time due to surgery or other complications may be more likely to experience kidney stones. This happens because when the child’s bones are inactive, they’re unable to regenerate themselves, resulting in the mineral calcium getting flushed into their system.

Risk Factors for Kidney Stones in Children

Diet, genetics, and lifestyle can all contribute to kidney stones.

Loss of body fluids (dehydration). If your child does not drink enough fluids, their urine can become concentrated and dark. When there is not enough fluid to dissolve minerals normally, it increases the likelihood that crystals or kidney stones will form.

Continued

Diet. The kinds of food your child eats can also affect their chances of getting kidney stones. Foods high in protein can cause acid in the body to increase, which lessens the amount of urinary citrate (a chemical that helps prevent kidney stones). Without enough urinary citrate, kidney stones are likely to form.

A high-salt diet is another risk factor. When there is a large amount of salt passing through the urine, it can pull calcium along with it, increasing the chance of kidney stones forming. Eating oxalate-rich foods such as leafy green vegetables, tea, or chocolate may make things worse.

A family history of stones. If a family member (such as a parent or sibling) has had kidney stones, it greatly increases the chance of the child experiencing kidney stones.

Diagnosing Kidney Stones in Children

Your child’s doctor will run a variety of tests to determine if kidney stones are present. They may:

  • A test to measure uric acid levels
  • Urinalysis
  • Abdominal CT scan
  • Abdominal/kidney MRI
  • Abdominal X-ray
  • Kidney ultrasound

Once the stone is found, the doctor will analyze it to determine what type of stone it is.

Treatment for Kidney Stones in Children

Most kidney stones pass through the urinary tract on their own and eventually leave the child’s system. Pain relievers can be used to help manage the pain. Antibiotics may be given if the kidney stones caused a urinary tract infection.

In some cases, your doctor may give your child medication to help you pass the kidney stone. Medications known as alpha blockers relax the muscles in your ureter, helping you pass the kidney stone more quickly and with less pain.

If your child has a very large kidney stone that doesn’t pass with dietary changes or medication, your doctor may recommend surgery. This typically involves a surgery where the doctor makes a small incision in your back and inserts small telescopes and instruments to remove the stones. For a procedure like this, they are given general anesthesia (a medicine that puts you in a sleep-like state). 

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Boston Children’s Hospital: “Kidney Stones.”

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: “Kidney Stones.”

Hopkins Medicine: “Kidney Stones in Children.”

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