Children's Hospital Colorado

Kidney Stones in Children

What is a kidney stone?

A kidney stone is a hard crystal that forms in urine inside the kidneys. It is made of salts and minerals that form inside the kidneys. The right balance of these salts and minerals helps prevent kidney stones. However, an imbalance of these salts and minerals can cause kidney stones to form.

Kids with kidney stones typically pass them on their own through their bladder. While this is painful, the stones cause no permanent damage. Stones that get stuck in the ureter, which runs from the kidneys to the bladder, can cause infection and may require surgery.

At Children's Hospital Colorado, we know that you don't want to see your child in pain. That's why our pediatric experts at The Stone Center will help your child pass their stone with as little pain as possible. They'll also create a plan to help prevent kidney stones in the future.

What causes kidney stones in children?

Several factors can put a child at risk of developing kidney stones. And, kidney stones are often the result of multiple causes.

Common causes for kidney stones include:

  • An imbalanced diet: for example, diets that are high in salt or animal protein such as beef, chicken, fish or pork
  • Certain medical conditions: such as Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, obesity, renal tubular acidosis and others
  • Medications: your doctor should review the medications your child is taking
  • History: family or personal history of kidney stones
  • Dehydration: not drinking enough water

Who gets kidney stones?

Anyone can get a kidney stone, even a young child. In most cases, kidney stones result from an imbalanced diet and not drinking enough water. In some cases, kidney stones form as the result of certain medical conditions or medications that increase stone-forming substances in the urine. Many children with kidney stones have family members who previously had them.

What are kidney stone symptoms in children?

Children with kidney stones may experience:

  • Back, side or groin pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Blood in their urine
  • General symptoms, such as abdominal pain

Pain typically comes and goes as the body is trying to pass the kidney stone. Pain during urination is also a sign of kidney stones. Sometimes kidney stones don't have symptoms and are found during an X-ray, ultrasound or CT scan for another reason.

How are kidney stones in kids diagnosed?

Our providers may use several approaches to diagnose kidney stones depending on your child's symptoms.

  • Our team will start by asking about your child's medical history and performing a physical exam.
  • In some cases, a blood or urine test may be necessary.
  • A urine test and ultrasound are the most common tactics for diagnosing a kidney stone. In some cases, we may use a CT scan.
  • An ultrasound uses soundwaves to produce pictures of the kidney. A CT scan uses X-rays to produce detailed cross-sectional images of the kidney. Our providers use these imaging tests to determine the size and location of the kidney stone.

What to expect from kidney stone tests

In addition to the medical history and physical exam, a kidney ultrasound will last approximately 20 minutes and a CT scan lasts less than a minute. The technicians who perform these imaging tests are trained specifically in pediatric diagnostic imaging so they know exactly what to look for and how to interpret pediatric images. We encourage parents and caregivers to be with your child during imaging tests to help comfort them. We also have child life specialists to make the experience more enjoyable for your child.

How are kidney stones treated in kids?

Treatment for kidney stones depends on the stone's size, cause and associated symptoms. For small stones that are not causing other complications, we typically recommend small changes that will help your child pass the kidney stone. These treatments include:

  • Drinking more water
  • Changing your child's diet, typically to reduce salt and animal proteins
  • Medication to help pass a stone or prevent future stone formation

Our care team may perform minimally invasive urologic surgery to remove the stone if the kidney stone is large or is causing severe pain, urinary tract infections or other issues.

Preventing future kidney stones in kids

Once your child has passed a kidney stone or we have removed it, we'll work with you and your child to reduce the chance of future kidney stones. We'll perform a complete metabolic evaluation to find the cause of the kidney stone. A complete metabolic evaluation includes a dietary evaluation, blood and urine tests and a stone analysis. This evaluation will help our pediatric specialists provide recommendations on ways to reduce the risk of your child forming additional kidney stones.

Why choose Children's Colorado for your child's kidney stone treatment?

Our entire care team, from imaging technicians to nurses to doctors, focuses solely on children's health. We treat the specific ways children's bodies react to kidney stones, use equipment designed specifically for children and provide care in a child-friendly environment. Our ultrasounds and CT scans minimize radiation exposure to avoid unnecessary DNA damage in children. We also provide rapid, state-of-the-art diagnosis and care to assess and treat your child's kidney stone quickly.

At Children's Colorado, we have a multidisciplinary team of dedicated pediatric nephrologists, urologists and dietitians committed to providing your child with the best and most complete care possible. We treat your child, not just their kidney stone. This means we do everything we can to pass your child's kidney stone, but also improve their overall health to help prevent kidney stones in the future.

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