Increase in Pediatric Kidney Stones Leads to New UW Health Clinic
MADISON - Roughly every 10 days, Bruce Slaughenhoupt, MD, and the pediatric kidney stone team at UW Health see one - a pediatric patient suffering from a kidney stone. And about every 10 days, they find themselves facing the same reaction from patient families.
"Many parents are quite surprised," says Dr. Slaughenhoupt, the co-director of the UW Health Pediatric Kidney Stone Clinic and a pediatric urologist at American Family Children's Hospital in Madison. "They tell me, 'I didn't know that kids could get kidney stones.'"
They can, and urologists and nephrologists across the country are noticing that children are doing so with increasing - and alarming - frequency. The culprit is believed to be the same one helping to fuel the national obesity epidemic: a diet high in processed foods and sodium.
Most kidney stones consist of calcium oxalate, a substance that can form in the kidneys when a body consumes too much sodium. Common types of processed food - think french fries and soda - often contain large amounts of sodium.
Children May Have Different Symptoms
Children may form kidney stones differently than adults, and they often have different symptoms. Adults with kidney stones tend to experience sharp abdominal pain. Children with kidney stones may experience pain, but also hematuria, or blood in the urine. That's generally more than enough to send frightened parents in search of treatment.
When her daughter, Alane Boyle, came to her in the middle of the night last November, complaining of abdominal pain, Amy Masek of Sussex, Wisconsin, was convinced that Alane had appendicitis. An emergency room doctor diagnosed a kidney stone.
"Yeah, I was a little bit surprised," says Alane, a petite 15-year-old who was last year's Miss Wisconsin Teen America. "My 59-year-old grandfather had a kidney stone. This doesn't happen to 15-year-old girls."
In most adults, a kidney stone will pass in about 40 days. In kids, the situation plays out a little differently. "Parents never give me the option of waiting 40 days," chuckles Dr. Slaughenhoupt. "They want their children's stone dealt with now."
Dr. Slaughenhoupt, along with Sharon Bartosh, MD, and dietician Kris Penniston, see children with kidney stones in the multidisciplinary pediatric kidney stone clinic at American Family Children's Hospital. Dr. Slaughenhoupt generally will wait three to five days to see if the kidney stone will pass.
If it doesn't, the standard treatment is the same used to treat kidney stones in many adults - laser lithotripsy, a procedure in which a doctor uses a specialized laser to burn the stone into dustlike particles that can be passed painlessly. If the child's ureter is too small to accommodate the small telescope doctors use to help target the laser, a ureteral stent may be used to passively dilate the ureter.
In Alane's case, finding treatment was particularly challenging, as the hospitals in her area rent their lithotripsy equipment from medical facilities in Chicago. That's how she ended up coming to the American Family Children's Hospital. Alane was treated quickly, and recovered soon afterward.
Dr. Slaughenhoupt has warned Alane that she's likely to form other kidney stones as she ages.
"Some children have one stone and that's it," he says. "However, if you have two stones, you're very likely to end up having more."
Changes in diet and, in some cases, medication can help to alleviate the problem. For her part, Alane and her mom have worked to reduce sodium in her diet, and she regularly guzzles 85 ounces of water a day.
"It's tough," Alane admits. "Everything has sodium in it. I really have to watch it."
Date Published: 12/28/2007