Investigators at the University of Colorado studying the discovery of kidney stones in people who initially showed no signs of kidney function or infection for up to three years have revealed potential explanations for why some kidney stones are on the rise and why others are becoming easier to treat.
While dental fluoridation is believed to be the chief reason, the study concludes that factors such as colitis (inflammation of the colon) and ulcerative colitis can also be part of the host-contagion equation. While these factors may account for some of the changes, the study adds that other factors are likely at play.
There were 587 cases of kidney stones diagnosed in Colorado in 2014, a number that jumped to 5,314 in 2016.
Although some patients require treatment to reduce the size and number of stones, officials with the Colorado Center for Disease Control note that a large majority of the cases result in resolution of the mineral formation. As a result, health officials recommend that patients report the findings of X-rays and get them diagnosed and treated quickly.
To develop the study, investigators reached out to 254 patients enrolled in kidney stone management programs at the University of Colorado Hospital. Patients were asked to take three home visits from health care providers over a three-year period from 2013 to 2015. They found that 55 percent of the patients reported having at least one gastrointestinal complaint including some, but not all, of the major causes, which in the majority of cases were associated with lower urinary tract symptoms, colitis or ulcerative colitis. Those factors occurred at higher rates in patients who were either older or who had a history of kidney stones.
In the case of colitis or ulcerative colitis, researchers observed that the symptoms often did not exist and symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain and constipation could be caused by other factors.
The study also revealed that between 45 percent and 55 percent of patients with certain higher-grade kidney stones were also diagnosed with higher-grade chronic kidney disease. The findings suggest that conditions such as dyslipidemia (high cholesterol), diabetes and chronic kidney disease could also contribute to changes in kidney function.
In terms of treatment, the study shows that surgical removal of kidney stones was shown to be effective. Roughly one-third of the cases of kidney stones treated with surgery were cleared within one week after the procedure. However, fewer patients had been seen for an infection within a week of the procedure.
But for patients who continued to have symptoms, treatment options include anti-hypertensive drugs or short-term antibiotics to treat the infection.
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Alexandra Gratereaux contributed to this report.