Most people think of kidney stones as an adults-only condition, but you can get kidney stones at any age.
A kidney stone is a pebbly substance that forms in a child’s kidney if the urine mineral level is too high. Kidney stones in kids must be treated by a health care professional.
Craig Andrew Peters, M.D., Division Director of Pediatric Urology at Children’s Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern, says a family history of kidney stones increases the chance of developing them. “Kidney stones are not uncommon and affect one in 10 people,” Dr. Peters says. “When materials build up and don’t dissolve in the urine, solid crystals, that form stones, can develop. Kidney stones contain minerals like calcium.”
Signs of kidney stones in a child
Small kidney stones in a child can pass through the urinary tract without causing any symptoms. If your child has larger kidney stones he or she may experience:
- Sharp pain in the back, side, lower abdomen or groin
- Blood in urine
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Pain while urinating
- Cloudy or bad-smelling urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fever and chills
Does your child have a kidney stone?
If you think your child has a kidney stone, consult a health care professional. Your pediatrician or pediatric urologist evaluates your child’s kidney stone symptoms and medical history, conducts a physical exam, and orders tests to diagnose a childhood kidney stone and find out what may have caused it.
“Imaging tests tell us the size, location and amount of stones your child has,” says Dr. Peters. “An abdominal X-ray can pinpoint a stone in the kidneys or ureters. A renal bladder ultrasound (RBUS) helps us find a stone and signs of blockage. If these tests don’t tell us the information we need, we can perform an abdominal/pelvic CT scan.”
Kidney stone treatment for your child
Stones may pass if your child drinks extra fluids. Medical Expulsive Therapy (MET) is a technique in which your physician prescribes a medicine like Tamsulosin to increase the chances of passing a stone. If your child is in a lot of pain or if the stone is large, it may have to be removed or broken up into smaller pieces. Surgery for pediatric kidney stones is necessary when:
- The kidney stone doesn’t pass within 15 days, a fever develops or there is constant pain
- The kidney stone is too large to pass naturally
- Urine flow is blocked
- There is an ongoing urinary tract infection
- There is constant bleeding or kidney damage
- A follow-up X-ray reveals the child’s kidney stone has become larger
Procedures to break up childhood kidney stones include:
- Extracorporeal Lithotripsy. This procedure takes place in an outpatient setting and uses an instrument to break the child’s kidney stone into small bits that can pass naturally. This procedure does not involve inserting any instruments into the body, but depends on focusing a shock wave at the stone.
- Percutaneous nephrostolithotomy (PCNL). This procedure uses a needle inserted through the skin into the kidney, and special surgical instruments to remove kidney stones in children. Hospitalization is required and recovery is generally within two weeks.
- Ureteroscopy. In this procedure, a fiberoptic telescope (ureteroscope) passes through the urethra and bladder to the child’s kidney stone. It removes or breaks up kidney stones using a laser. It is performed in an outpatient setting.
“At Children's Health Comprehensive Stone Center, treatment options for pediatric kidney stones include advanced procedures such as robotic-assisted surgery (laparoscopy) and minimally-invasive techniques (MIS) to speed your child’s recovery,” says Dr. Peters.
Why do kids get kidney stones? Risks and prevention
In addition to your family’s medical history, risk factors for kidney stones in kids include:
- Dehydration. If your child doesn’t drink enough during the day, there is less fluid available to dissolve any crystals in the urine. This is particularly important in warm-weather areas like Texas. See tips to stay hydrated here.
- Diet. Too much animal protein, salt or oxalates (found in leafy greens, tea, nuts like almonds, cashews and peanuts, or chocolate) can cause mineral imbalances that increase the chances for pediatric kidney stones to form.
“It may sound surprising but, yes, too much spinach can be too much of a good thing,” says Dr. Peters.
Can childhood kidney stones be prevented?
To prevent kidney stones in kids, focus on proper hydration and a well-balanced diet. You can help reduce your child’s risk of developing kidney stones with simple dietary changes, including:
- Drinking more water
- Decreasing salt intake
- Drinking beverages with naturally occurring citric acid
- Avoiding foods rich in oxalates
See more information about preventing kidney stones in children.
Learn more about kidney stones in children
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.
Children’s Health Family Newsletter
Get health tips and parenting advice from Children’s Health experts sent straight to your inbox twice a month. Sign up now.