Some states may see an increase in kidney stones as temperatures rise in the United States, according to a recent study conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
It’s a trend that scientists have identified in the past, but will get more prominent — and more expensive — as time passes, researchers say.
The study, published Jan. 10 in Scientific Reports, examined data from South Carolina over 18 years (1997–2014) on the average temperatures of the state and kidney stone cases. Researchers used a wet-bulb temperature metric, a more accurate way of measuring kidney stone estimates.
It posed two scenarios. The first examined the relationship between kidney stone prevalence and temperatures if the future were to establish lower-emission sources of energy, reduce global warming trends and encourage more forest lands by 2100.
The second module determined the outcome if the future had mostly unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions. The difference in global temperatures rising between the two modules was between a 2.3 degrees Celsius and 3.6 degrees Celsius increase.
But even as temperatures rise globally, some in the U.S. will begin to see an increase in kidney stone prevalence — the Kidney Stone Belt. According to the study, the belt refers to Southeast states, where kidney stones are more commonly found compared to other regions in the country. It could be associated with diet and higher temperatures, researchers said.
“As our analysis shows, under even a relatively conservative projection of climate change we can expect a higher incidence and cost of symptomatic kidney stones, particularly in the near future,” the study concluded.
The results showed that the amount of kidney stones within South Carolina would increase from 2.2% to 3.9% by 2089, which offered insight into neighboring states in the kidney stone belt, the study said.
It isn’t just the prevalence of kidney stone disease that could be impacted by climate change, though. It’s also people’s wallets. According to researchers, the average cost per patient with kidney stones is $9,000, and an increase in kidney stones statewide could mean that the total medical cost could add up to anywhere between $56.6 million and $99.4 million, depending on how climate change is addressed.
“With climate change, we don’t often talk about the impact on human health, particularly when it comes to children, but a warming planet will have significant effects on human health,” said Gregory E. Tasian, attending pediatric urologist and senior author of the study. “As pediatric researchers, we have a duty to explore the burden of climate change on human health, as the children of today will be living this reality in the future.”
The number of Americans with kidney stones has increased significantly when compared to 1994, according to the University of Alabama, and the pain of passing a kidney stone has been compared to childbirth. While the Southeast has become known for having higher incidences of kidney stones, there are ways to help prevent them, according to the university:
- Drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration
- Get calcium from food sources
- Eat less animal protein and salt
- Stock up on citrus and citric acid in fruits
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases offers a guide for people concerned about their kidney health, and those who want to learn more about kidney stones.