PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania – What used to be a disease of middle-aged white males is now soaring in adolescents, and may require extensive surgery to treat.
Doctors say they are seeing a doubling of kidney stone cases in teenagers over the past 20 years.
"It's a dramatic increase. I really describe it as an epidemic," said Dr. Gregory Tasian, attending urologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
It's a painful condition that recurs in many patients and can become a lifelong disease for some.
Why the increase in young people?
New research suggests certain antibiotic use may be the culprit.
"The question becomes if antibiotics are prescribed unnecessarily, for example a viral illness, that's where we need to focus our efforts," explained Dr. Tasian.
Case in point: Emma Gaal who suffered her first kidney stone at just six years old.
"When they said kidney stones, it was crazy," said P.J. Gaal, Emma's mother. "Doesn't seem like someone her age could get that."
"It feels like someone's stabbing you," said Emma.
"All day, every day, until you pass it."
"What that means for that child who has a stone earlier in life, is they have a lifetime in which stones can recur," said Dr. Tasian.
Emma underwent laser surgery and had a stent placed in one of her kidneys.
The classes of antibiotics that doctors are researching as possible culprits are:
- sulfa drugs
- broad-spectrum penicillin, like Augmentin
But it's more than that.
Parents need to know what to look for.
"In a younger patient," explained Dr. Tasian, "(it) may just have belly pain, blood in the urine and nausea."
DIAGNOSING: Symptoms of kidney stones in children include sharp pains in the back, side, lower abdomen, or groin, pink, red, or brown blood in the urine, a constant need to urinate, pain while urinating, inability to urinate, cloudy or bad-smelling urine and irritability, especially in young children. A child should see a health care professional right away when any of these symptoms occur. These symptoms can be caused by a kidney stone or a more serious condition. The pain of a kidney stone may last for a short or long time or may come and go in waves. Along with pain, a child may have nausea and vomiting. Other symptoms include fever and chills.
And Emma, who is now fully recovered, is back in action in track and field and heads to college in the fall.
"I'm double majoring in special education and elementary education K-4 and I'm really excited."
Kidney stones, which can last a lifetime when kids get them at a young age, are associated with high blood pressure and decreased bone density.
In addition to antibiotics, researchers are looking at environmental factors as possible associated causes.