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Global Warming May Cause Kidney Stones

July 15, 2008

U.S. researchers say millions more people could suffer from kidney stones due to an increase in global warming.

Two mathematical models linked temperature and the risk of kidney-stones, and found that segments of the United States where the condition is most common will grow in coming years due to an expected rise in temperatures.

One of the researchers, urologist Dr. Margaret Pearle of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said, “There’s every reason to anticipate that it would be happening worldwide.”

Kidney stones are defined as tremendously painful hard deposits of minerals and salts that can form in the kidneys. The condition tends to be more common in hot climates, with dehydration being a key risk factor.

Researchers said Monday they forecast increases of up to 30 percent in kidney stone cases in some areas, which means millions more people would get the condition.

They added that the U.S. could spend 25 percent more than current levels on treating kidney stone cases. The price tag could go up to $1 billion per year — by 2050.

In the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers wrote that kidney stones are now most common in the southeastern United States. However, they predict this “kidney stone belt” will expand northward and westward.

Kidney stones are formed when people fail to drink enough water and other fluids and become dehydrated. This condition is more likely in hotter climates. 

Climate change has contributed to an array of negative health consequences that include an increase in the many diseases spread by mosquitoes and other insects.

Researchers said the number of U.S. residents living in high-risk zones for kidney stones could increase from 40 percent in 2000 to 56 percent by 2050. They predict by 2095, the number could reach 70 percent if temperatures rise as estimated.

One of the models studied by researchers predicted a larger concentration of cases in a geographic band stretching from Kansas to Kentucky and northern California. A second model estimated increases by 2050 concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, and the East coast.

About 12 percent of U.S. men and 7 percent of women experience kidney stone disease at some time during their lives.

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