Locations:
Search IconSearch

Could Your Child’s Stomach Pain Be Kidney Stones?

Why kidney stones in kids are on the rise (and what to watch for)

Could Your Child’s Stomach Pain Be Kidney Stones?

When it comes to kids, stomachaches and temporary pains are expected from time to time, but sometimes it can be hard to tell if they’re serious or not. Since kidney stones in kids have significantly increased over the last two decades, it’s a good idea to know what to look for, especially since kidney stones can technically affect anyone, at any age.

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

“One of the biggest reasons for the jump in numbers of kids and teens coming in with kidney stones, other than medical conditions, is simply not drinking enough water,” says pediatric urologist Audrey Rhee, MD.

It’s important to pay attention to your child’s habits to prevent kidney stones from developing.

How do kidney stones form?

Kidney stones develop when the minerals normally found in your urine build up and collect to high levels, resulting in hard deposits that vary in size, shape and texture. If they’re tiny, they can pass through your urinary tract with some mild discomfort, but the bigger they become, the more likely it is that they’ll get stuck and/or cause more pain and discomfort.

Dehydration, inactivity and sodium play a role

If a kidney stone is diagnosed, your child’s urine is collected for 24 hours. It’s then sent to a lab to test the mineral content and levels, the amount of each mineral in the urine and note the amount of urine produced which will evaluate for metabolic disorders such as diabetes.

“It’s rare for me to find a metabolic disorder, but almost every patient I’ve seen has a low volume of urine. If you’re not making enough urine, you’re probably not taking in enough fluid,” says Dr. Rhee.

Since fluids help flush minerals through your urinary system, not staying hydrated is associated with developing kidney stones. “Lots of kids think they drink enough water, but especially if they’re active, they need to drink more,” says Dr. Rhee.

So how much water is enough? “For kids over 12, I recommend from 2 to 2 1/2 liters of water a day,” Dr. Rhee says. “For a younger child, 1 to 1 1/2 liters.” (Note: 1 liter is equal to slightly over 4 cups.)

“A sedentary lifestyle and a high sodium intake in your diet are also associated with the development of kidney stones,” notes Dr. Rhee. Fast food and highly processed foods (staples in the average American diet) are key offenders.

What are the symptoms of kidney stones in children?

As a parent, you’ll need to be on high alert for any of the following symptoms of kidney stones:

  • Pain in the side, back, abdomen or groin that can come and go and may cause nausea and/or vomiting.
  • Pain while urinating.
  • Blood in the urine, making it look brown, pink or red.
  • Cloudy urine.
  • Difficulty urinating.

Advertisement

What should I do if I suspect my child has kidney stones?

Children with suspected kidney stones should be seen by their physician, who will order an ultrasound to look for stones and obstructions. To minimize radiation exposure to kids, a computerized tomography (CT) scan or other imaging tests are best reserved for later, if needed.

What happens if my child has kidney stones?

The good news is that the majority of kidney stones are fairly small, so most kids don’t need surgery. First, they’re told to drink plenty of fluids, including lemonade that’s made with real lemons. “Do not rely on store-bought lemonade because most of that’s sugar,” says Dr. Rhee. The citric acid in the lemons increases the citrate content of urine, a nutrient that makes it more difficult for kidney stones to form.

Children may also be prescribed mild pain relievers and medication that dilates their ureters, the tubes connecting the kidney to the bladder, helping the stone pass through more easily. A strainer is sent home so that any stones in the urine can be sifted out, put in a sealable bag and brought in to be sent to a lab to have the content analyzed.

Surgery is always the last resort. If the stone doesn’t pass within a few days, people usually have about a month before surgery is deemed necessary. However, all bets are off on the wait-and-see approach if a person develops a fever during that time. This indicates a possible and potentially life-threatening kidney infection that needs immediate attention.

How to prevent more kidney stones in the future

Kids with kidney stones have a 50% lifetime risk of having a recurrence. “We hit home that they need to drink more water, drink the lemonade and try to avoid sodium,” Dr. Rhee says. “That means potato chips, pretzels, pizza and all that kind of junk food.”

As a final note to parents: Help your kids stay away from high-sugar, high-calorie drinks, and make sure your child increases their fluid intake in hot weather or with exertion. It’s important to also continue to encourage physical activity so they can live their most fun kid days!

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Child talking with caregiver on couch
July 12, 2024/Mental Health
Talking To Your Child About School Shooting Drills

‘Active shooter’ exercises may raise both awareness and anxiety

Child crying and screaming, with caregiver handing over a lollipop, with another caregiver with hands on head, stressed
June 27, 2024/Children's Health
How To Deal With Toddler Tantrums: Tips From an Expert

Stay calm, don’t give in and try to refocus their attention

Parent with teen live action role playing in community park, with people walking dogs in background
June 26, 2024/Children's Health
Building Resiliency: 6 Ways To Boost Your Teen’s Confidence and Coping Skills

Integrating coping skills into your teen’s daily routine helps turn self-care into a lifelong healthy habit

Caregiver kneeled down, talking with child in front of school
June 25, 2024/Children's Health
Have an Aggressive Toddler? Here’s How To Manage Their Behavior

Tantrums and meltdowns are normal, but you can help your child manage their bigger emotions

Adult in the passenger seat of car while smiling teen drives
June 19, 2024/Children's Health
Teen Not Talking? Here’s How To Break the Silence

Talking in the car, resisting the urge to judge and asking specific questions can help rebuild rapport

Baby getting nasal irrigation
June 17, 2024/Children's Health
Neti Pot for Babies: Is Nasal Irrigation Safe?

Yes, it’s safe for babies starting at about 9 months old and can help clear nasal mucus

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

Smiling parent holding smiling baby in a pool
June 7, 2024/Children's Health
When Can Babies Go in the Pool?

Wait until they’re at least 6 months old before your little one takes their first dunk

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad