Climate change will lead to more kidney stones: study

Rising temperatures from climate change will lead to more kidney stone cases, a new study has found.

Dr. Gregory Tasian is a pediatric urologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the lead author of the study, which was published Monday in the peer-reviewed journal Scientific Reports.

“While it is impossible to predict with certainty how future policies will slow or hasten greenhouse gas emission and anthropogenic climate change… our analysis suggests that a warming planet will likely cause an increased burden of kidney stone disease on healthcare systems,” Dr. Tasian said in a press release.

Kidney stones are hard mineral deposits that can be very painful when passed through the urinary system. They can form for a variety of reasons, including diet, genetics, obesity and taking certain medications and supplements. According to the study, heat also plays a factor.

“It is well established that high ambient temperatures increase the risk of developing kidney stone disease and presenting with acute, symptomatic stones,” the study explained. “One proposed mechanism is that higher evaporative water losses leads to more concentrated urine, creating an environment in which crystallization of calcium, oxalate, uric acid, and phosphate is more likely.”

The study notes kidney stones affect one in 11 Americans, and that case numbers have risen over the past two decades, particularly amongst adolescents and women. The Kidney Foundation of Canada estimates that one in 10 Canadians are affected.

To see how climate change could impact the prevalence of kidney stones, the researchers created a model based on South Carolina kidney stone case and climate data from 1997 to 2014. That information was then used to create two forecasts: one based on aggressive greenhouse gas reductions, and another based on unhindered emissions.

Their model found that by 2089, kidney stone incidence would increase by 2.2 per cent in the first scenario, and by 3.9 per sent in the second. In either situation, they anticipated between US $57 million and $99 million being spent to treat additional kidney stone cases in South Carolina alone as the average global temperature rises.

The study is just the latest addition to a growing body of research on the many health impacts of climate change, which is already being documented in Canada. The World Health Organization calls climate change “the biggest health threat facing humanity.”

“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,” Dr. Tasian, who also teaches at the University of Pennsylvania, said. “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.”

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