More than half a million people go to the emergency room each year for kidney stones. While the majority of these individuals are adults, some children also require care for kidney stones.

If your child has recently received a diagnosis of kidney stones — or you believe that your child could have them — you may have questions about what exactly kidney stones are, how doctors diagnose them, and what treatment options are available.

Always speak with your child’s doctor if you have any questions about their health. We’ve gathered some information about kidney stones to help you feel more prepared for that conversation.

Kidney stones are solid masses. They occur when minerals form crystals inside the kidneys. They can range from the size of a grain of sand to the size of a golf ball.

Renal calculus, or nephrolith, is the scientific name for kidney stones. They may also be referred to as nephrolithiasis, urolithiasis, or urinary stones.

Although kidney stones are more common in adults, they can happen at any age. In children, they are more common in older teens but can occur in younger childen and even infants.

Types of kidney stones that children can have include:

  • calcium oxalate stones (these are the most common)
  • uric acid stones
  • struvite stones
  • cystine stones

Kidney stones are not common in children, but the number of children affected by them has increased in recent years. This may be due to health concerns for children, such as:

  • diets that include more processed foods and sodium
  • a rise in childhood obesity
  • less active lifestyles

Signs and symptoms of kidney stones in children can include:

If a kidney stone is smaller and passes on its own, a child may not experience any symptoms.

High levels of calcium, oxalate, or phosphorus in the urine can cause kidney stones. Kidney stones can also form if there are insufficient amounts of minerals.

Certain health conditions, medications, and diets can lead to kidney stones as well. These include:

To diagnose kidney stones, your child’s doctor may:

  • ask about their health history
  • perform a physical exam
  • request labs and images

Medical history

When asking about your child’s health history, the doctor will ask about:

  • their symptoms
  • their typical diet
  • family history of kidney stones

Lab tests

Healthcare professionals can use lab tests to determine if a child has high mineral levels or signs of infection. If a doctor diagnoses a UTI, they will prescribe antibiotics as a treatment.

Lab tests may include:

Imaging tests

Imaging tests may reveal the presence of kidney stones, as well as birth defects or blockages that may have led to kidney stones. These tests include:

Your child’s doctor may ask them to drink a lot of water to see if the kidney stone will pass on its own. They may also prescribe pain medication, medication to make the urine less acidic, or both.

If a kidney stone is too large or blocks the flow of urine or if there are signs of infection, a healthcare professional may recommend surgery to remove the stone.

Some procedures they may recommend include:

  • Shock-wave lithotripsy: Shock-wave lithotripsy is done on the outside of the body using sound waves to break the kidney stones up.
  • Cystoscopy: During cystoscopy, a healthcare professional uses a thin tube with a tiny lens to see inside the urethra and bladder. This allows doctors to find a stone and remove it or break it down into smaller pieces.
  • Ureteroscopy: This is a similar procedure to a cystoscopy, but a longer and thinner tube is used to see the lining of the ureters and kidneys.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy: A nephroscope, a thin viewing tool, is used to locate and remove kidney stones in this procedure. The tool is inserted directly into the kidney through a small cut made in the back.

Children who have had kidney stones previously or who have a family history of kidney stones are more likely to get them.

When children are in a cast or unable to move for a long period of time due to surgery or illness, their chances of developing kidney stones are higher. This is because the body may release extra calcium into the blood when the bones aren’t moving.

Additionally, conditions that may increase the risk of kidney stones include:

When treated by a medical professional, most kidney stones do not cause permanent damage.

Children who have experienced kidney stones in the past will be more likely to have kidney stones in the future. Determining and addressing the cause of previous kidney stones can help prevent them from occurring in the future.

What can I do to prevent my child from getting kidney stones?

Drinking a lot of liquids, especially water, is one of the most important things your child can do to prevent kidney stones. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet can also help to prevent kidney stones. Always discuss any dietary changes with your child’s doctor first. If your child has a history of kidney stones, their doctor may suggest diet changes based on the cause of past kidney stones.

What does a kidney stone look like?

Kidney stones often have a pebble-like appearance. They may be jagged or smooth. They are frequently yellow or brown.

How fast do kidney stones form?

Kidney stones may form in weeks to months. Some larger kidney stones develop slowly over years.

Kidney stones can occur in individuals of any age. While some are small enough to pass without any symptoms, larger ones may require surgery.

Making sure that your child is getting plenty of water, staying active, and eating a balanced diet can help prevent the formation of kidney stones. If you believe that your child has kidney stones, talk with their doctor. They can make an accurate diagnosis and work with you to determine which treatments may be necessary.