You may know adults who’ve had kidney stones — or you may have experienced the pain of passing a kidney stone yourself. But can kids get kidney stones?
Kids do get kidney stones, says the American Academy of Pediatrics, and they’ve become more common in the past 20 years. Diet may play a role.
Kidney stones can occur in children of any age. But they’re more common in teens than in younger kids.
Here’s what you need to know about kidney stones in children.
What Is a Kidney Stone?
A kidney stone is a hard, pebble-like formation in one or both kidneys. Kidney stones develop when high levels of certain minerals form crystals in the urine. The crystals bind together to produce the kidney stone.
A kidney stone can be as tiny as a grain of sand or as big as a pea. In very rare cases, a kidney stone can grow as large as a golf ball. The surface of the stone can be rough or smooth.
The kidney stone may stay in the kidney, or it may move out with the flow of urine. Smaller stones may pass through the urinary tract without a problem. In many cases, you may not even realize your child had a kidney stone.
But the kidney stone may get stuck in the urinary tract. It can block the flow of urine, causing severe pain and bleeding.
Never Miss a Beat!
Subscribe to Our HealthBeat Newsletter!
Get Healthy Tips Sent to Your Phone!
What Causes Kidney Stones in Children?
Kidney stones are the result of high levels of certain minerals — calcium, oxalate, and phosphorus — in the urine. In normal quantities, these minerals are harmless, but in larger quantities they can form kidney stones.
Lifestyle and diet play a role in the development of kidney stones. Eating processed foods and not drinking enough water can contribute to their formation. When there’s not enough liquid passing through the kidneys, the minerals in the urine become too concentrated.
Kidney stones tend to run in families. If you or your partner are prone to them, your kids may be as well.
Other causes of kidney stones include birth defects of the urinary tract, side effects of certain medications, or rare metabolic conditions.
Risk Factors for Kidney Stones in Children
Some factors make it more likely for kids to develop kidney stones. They are:
- A diet high in salt, meat, and processed foods and low in fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Not drinking enough water.
- Drinking too many sugary drinks.
- A family history of kidney stones.
- Having had kidney stones in the past.
- A blockage in the urinary tract.
- Having a chronic inflammation of the bowel.
- Certain diseases, like gout, cystic fibrosis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
- Not having enough citric acid (from oranges, lemons, limes) in the urine.
- Chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs).
Symptoms of Kidney Stones in Children
The following are symptoms of kidney stones in kids:
- Sharp, sudden pain. Pain with kidney stones tends to radiate from the back and side. But as the stone moves through the urinary tract, it can cause pain in the belly or groin.
- Pain while urinating.
- Blood in the urine. The urine may look pink, red, or brown.
- An urgent feeling of “needing to go”.
- Cloudy, bad-smelling urine.
- Inability to urinate or only urinating a small quantity.
- Fever and chills, which can be signs of an infection.
Treatment of Kidney Stones in Children
If you think your child may have kidney stones, you should call your pediatrician right away.
Doctors diagnose kidney stones with blood and urine tests. They may run imaging tests (ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans) to see the exact location and size of the stone. A 24-hour urine collection can help determine the cause of the kidney stone. Once your doctor has this information, they can decide what type of treatment is best.
At-home treatment of kidney stones
Depending on the size and shape of the stone, you may be able to treat it at home. Drinking plenty of water may help the stone pass. You can also give your child over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication (ibuprofen or acetaminophen).
Your doctor may ask that you strain your child’s pee to collect any stones or fragments that pass. Lab tests can help your doctor figure out what type of stone it is, and what caused it. That will help them decide if you child needs more treatment.
Hospital treatment of kidney stones
Larger kidney stones don’t usually pass on their own. They may block the urinary tract, causing severe pain. Kids with larger kidney stones may need urgent medical care.
Children who are vomiting or are in extreme pain may need intravenous (IV) fluids. They can get fluids and stronger pain medicine through a vein.
A urologist may have to remove the kidney stone. They can do that through:
- Shock wave lithotripsy — a procedure that uses sound waves outside the body to break up the kidney stone. The tiny pieces of the kidney stone then pass out of the body in the urine.
- Cystoscopy — a doctor uses a tube with a tiny lens to look inside the urethra and bladder to find a kidney stone. They can remove the stone or break it into smaller pieces.
- Ureteroscopy — a doctor uses a tube and lens to look inside the ureters and kidneys. As in cystoscopy, they can remove the stone or break it up.
Preventing Kidney Stones in Children
You can reduce the chances of your child getting kidney stones by having them:
- Drink enough water. If your child is well-hydrated, their urine should be pale yellow.
- Limit salt in cooked foods, and don’t add salt at the table.
- Eat more citrus fruits.
- Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Avoid processed foods, fast foods, and soda.
- Limit foods with sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
- Ask your doctor about the proper amount of calcium for your child. Too little or too much calcium can increase the risk of kidney stones.
If your child is prone to kidney stones, your doctor may recommend seeing a kidney specialist (nephrologist). They can make more specific recommendations about your child’s diet.
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Kidney Stones in Children, Link
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Symptoms & Causes of Kidney Stones in Children, Link
American Academy of Pediatrics, Kidney Stones in Children and Teens, Link
Kidshealth.org, Kidney Stones, Link
Urology Care Foundation, Kidney Stones in Children, Link
From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.