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How climate change will cause more people to have kidney stones

"With climate change, we don't often talk about the impact on human health, particularly when it comes to children, but a warming planet will have significant effects on human health."

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Extracorporeal shockwave therapy in urology. Cropped shot of lying woman patient, having ultrasound to determine kidney stones position before the lithotripsy procedure.

By Georgia Lambert via SWNS

The climate crisis will cause more people to suffer from kidney stones, according to new research.

Kidney stone disease is a condition caused by hard deposits of minerals developing in the urine and they can cause intense pain when passing through the urinary tract in the bladder.

via GIPHY

The incidence of the condition has increased in the last 20 years and is seen particularly among women and children.

And the worrying trend is set to continue, according to study senior author, Dr. Gregory Tasian, a urologist at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in the US.

He said: “While it is impossible to predict with certainty how future policies will slow or hasten greenhouse gas emission and anthropogenic climate change, and to know exactly what future daily temperatures will be, our analysis suggests that a warming planet will likely cause an increased burden of kidney stone disease on healthcare systems."

Past studies have demonstrated that high room temperatures increase the risk of developing kidney stones and particularly in the US, more people develop the condition after hot days.

With this in mind, the researchers wanted to understand how climate change would impact any future cases of kidney stones.

To do so, the researchers created a model to estimate the impact of heat on future kidney stone cases in South Carolina.

The researchers chose the southern state as a model because it lies within the “kidney stone belt” of the United States - a region in the Southeastern US with a greater number of kidney stone disease cases.

The state's healthcare system also uses an all-payer claims database, which meant that the researchers could easily capture stone diagnoses across the population, regardless of payer status.

The team first found out the relationship between historic daily state-wide mean temperatures and the number of kidney stone presentations between 1997 to 2014.

They then used wet-bulb temperatures (WBT) - a moist heat metric that accounts for both room heat and humidity - used as an accurate metric for predicting the presence of kidney stones.

Using the data to forecast the heat-related number of kidney stones, they were able to forecast what the associated costs would be in the year 2089 based on two climate change scenarios.

The first climate change scenario - RCP 4.5 - represented an “intermediate” future and showed the shifts towards lower-emissions sources of energy, the use of carbon capture technology, prices on CO2 emissions, and an expansion of forest lands from the present day to 2100.

The second scenario - RCP 8.5 - represented a future with mostly uninhibited greenhouse gas emissions.

The first scenario projected a 2.3 degrees Celsius increase in mean temperature using the five-year period from 2010 to 2014 to model what the outcome would look like in the years 2085 to 2089.

While the second scenario projected a much higher 3.6 degrees Celsius increase within the same time frame.

Using their model, the researchers found that by 2089, heat-caused kidney stones would increase across the state by 2.2 percent in the intermediate future of RCP 4.5 and by 3.9 percent in RCP 8.5.

Based on the average cost of treatment, which resulted in being more than $9,000 dollars, the researchers forecasted that from 2025 to 2089, the total cost attributable to these excess kidney stones would be $56.6 million dollars for RCP and $99.4 million dollars for RCP 8.5.

First author, Jason Kaufman, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, said: "Our analysis is a model to conceptualize how the burden of kidney stone disease is expected to progress with climate change, and also how mitigations to greenhouse gas emissions can offset some of this burden."

Dr. Tasian added: "With climate change, we don't often talk about the impact on human health, particularly when it comes to children, but a warming planet will have significant effects on human health.

“As pediatric researchers, we have a duty to explore the burden of climate change on human health, as the children of today will be living this reality in the future.”

The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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