If your child develops one kidney stone, does that put him or her at risk of developing kidney stones throughout their lifetime? Not necessarily. While not entirely preventable, there are steps parents can take to help reduce their child’s risk of developing kidney stones.
Craig Peters, M.D., Division Director of Pediatric Urology at Children’s Health℠ and Professor of Urology at UT Southwestern, explains the causes of kidney stones in children and suggests dietary changes that can help prevent them.
What causes kidney stones in children?
A kidney stone is a concentration of minerals that don’t properly break down in the urine. They form when certain substances in the urine become too concentrated.
“There are many causes of kidney stones, but they tend to form when certain chemicals are present in the urine and cannot stay dissolved in the water of the urine,” explains Dr. Peters. “These chemicals are mostly salt. Multiple crystals of salt stick together and grow until a visible stone forms. Imagine seawater evaporating and leaving salt crystals behind.”
Some of the most common causes of kidney stones in children are:
- Bacterial infection in the urinary tract
- Blockage in the urinary tract
- Conditions that prevent the body from properly digesting food
- Eating foods containing too much salt
- Genetic conditions (passed down in families)
- Not drinking enough water
4 steps to preventing kidney stones in children
Dr. Peters suggests parents help their children make some fairly simple lifestyle and nutrition adjustments to reduce their risk of developing kidney stones, such as:
- Drink more water. Encouraging your child to drink more water each day helps move water through the kidneys and reduce the buildup of minerals that cause kidney stones. One easy way for your child to increase his or her daily water intake is to carry a water bottle to school and after-school activities so he or she can stay hydrated throughout the day. See more hydration tips here.
- Decrease salt intake. One of the best ways to reduce salt intake is to help your child be more mindful of how much salt he or she eats on a regular basis. You can help your child eat less salt by using less salt in cooking, avoiding salty foods and particularly avoiding packaged or fast foods that often contain large amounts of sodium. Get into the habit of reading the labels of packaged foods. Talk with your physician to understand how much sodium your child should be eating.
- Drink beverages with naturally occurring citric acid. When we consume certain foods and drinks and they pass through the digestive system, they can reduce the chance of kidney stones from forming. This can be done by changing the acidity of the urine – known as the pH – and also by increasing the amount of citrate in the urine. By drinking beverages that naturally contain citrus acid, such as lemonade or orange juice, your child can change the acidity of his or her urine, thus reducing the chances of developing stones.
- Avoid foods rich in oxalates. Reducing one of the components of kidney stones – called oxalate – may reduce your child’s risk of developing a stone. Oxalates are found in many food products, including dark, leafy vegetables, such as kale, spinach and rhubarb, as well as in peanuts, chocolate and tea. Your child does not have to avoid these altogether, but he or she should not consume large amounts.
If you suspect your child may have a kidney stone, you should take him or her to see a pediatrician. If your child has recurrent kidney stones, he or she may need a referral to a pediatric urologist or nephrologist.
The highly experienced pediatric nephrologists and urologists at the Comprehensive Stone Center at Children’s Health can help your child if he or she develops kidney stones. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.