Hot weather could be to blame for increased kidney stone rates

Jul 18, 2023, 9:00 AM | Updated: 11:37 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Hot temperatures may be part of the reason more people in the United States are getting kidney stones.

Dehydration is a big factor in the cause of kidney stones, said Dr. Joshua Stern, a urologist with Intermountain Health. 

About 10% of the country’s population has had a kidney stone. Utah’s rates are about average for the nation. Once you’ve had one, there’s a 50-50 chance they’ll come back, said Stern. 

Kidney stone prevention

Stern said age isn’t a factor in kidney stone causes, but diabetes and obesity can put you at a higher risk.

“It’s all about the amount of water versus the amount of electrolytes that can become a stone and precipitate,” said Stern. 

It’s hard to prevent them, but drinking water, consuming less salt, and eating more fruits and vegetables can decrease your risk. Stern said medical professionals encourage more hydration and recommended between 60 and 90 ounces of hydrating fluids per day. That is somewhere between two and three liters. Add more if you like to exercise. 

And being susceptible to kidney stones is a function of comorbidities more than age.

“Things like diabetes and obesity can really put us a risk for kidney stones,” Stern offered.

Utah could become part of the “stone belt”

Stern said the southern and southwestern parts of the U.S. are known as the “kidney stone belt” because the stones are so prevalent in those areas. The hot climate and dehydration are to blame, according to Stern. 

Have you ever heard of the “stone belt”? The term comes from the high prevalence of kidney stones in the hottest parts of the United States. And in the years to come, the orange and red portions of the map, including parts of Utah, will become a part of the “stone belt.”

That’s according to Dr. Joshua Stern, a urologist with Intermountain Health.

“[Based on climate change predictions,] the percent of the country that will be in a stone belt will double in the next 50 years,” he said. 

The number of people experiencing stones in the U.S. is rising generally.

“I think we’re up to about 10% of the population that has had a kidney stone,” Stern said.

That puts Utah in line with the rest of the country regarding kidney stone cases per capita.

“There is an increasing prevalence of kids and teenagers with kidney stones now,” he added. In fact, doctors around the country are seeing more kids with kidney stones this summer than ever before.

How to know if you have a kidney stone

Is there anything people should do to be on the lookout for stones? Stern says you don’t need to look for anything.

“The stones will find them,” he said. And the pain is impossible to miss.

Even still, one of the reasons there is about a 50% recurrence within 3-5 years is that people forget and go right back to the bad habits that may have contributed to the stones in the first place.

Best advice? Fill up that water bottle.

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Hot weather could be to blame for increased kidney stone rates