Beware! Kidney Stones are on the Rise

Harvard Health Publication’s Faculty Editor, Robert H. Shmerling, MD., has warned that kidney stones are on the rise. In an article published on the publication’s blog, Shmerling writes that, until recently, the typical person experiencing kidney stone issues was male, middle-aged, and obese. This person was known to eat an unhealthy diet and drink too few fluids. A 2016 study, however, posits the necessity of reevaluating this demographic.

Kidney stones are developing in people who were not considered to be “high risk” in the past—children and women. The risk factors have not changed, leading many to believe that it is instead our shifting habits. Diet, obesity, medications, and family history remain the primary causes of this unfortunate formation.

The study, published in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, describes an analysis of more than 150,000 people in South Carolina. Each participant experienced kidney stones at some point between 1997 and 2012. The study’s major findings include a 16% increase in kidney stones over the study period with the biggest increases apparent among children, women, and African Americans. Though more men than women experienced kidney stones, women outnumbered men among participants under 25 years of age.

Though the study did not determine the primary catalyst for the uptick in kidney stone occurrences, analysts attribute the rising rate to widespread obesity. Another, more ambitious interpretation concerns climate change—warmer temperatures may encourage dehydration. Though nobody knows the cause, the fact remains: you are more likely to get a kidney stone now than you would have in the twentieth century. That fact alone is terrifying.

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