Sunday, July 20, 2008

Global Warming Linked To Kidney Stones?

(previously published here at

A Texas study hypothesizes the warming effects of climate change could increase the likelihood of developing kidney stones for some Americans living in dry areas.

The study, published in the July 8 issue of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, concludes that people could suffer from about 30 percent more kidney stones by the year 2050 than they do now, potentially causing a rise in treatment costs and other "significant effect."

Citing the lack of fluids that results from excess sweating or living in hot, dry climates, the report's lead author, Tom Brikowski, associate professor of geology at the University of Texas at Dallas, says he is "quite confident that kidney stone prevalence is related to climate."

The many risk factors that lead to kidney stone include obesity, high-blood pressure, inflammatory bowel disease and chronic diarrhea.

Kidney stones are formed from calcium or mineral deposits that crystallize into hard fragments that line the sides of the kidneys. Having them could be a painful experience involving excruciating side and back pain, pain during urination as well as fevers and chills if there is an infection, but it is treatable and usually has no lasting side effects.

However, "When you focus on the health effects of climate change, it might be wrong to pick out single outcomes and be overly focused on those," Dr. Jonathan Patz, a professor in the department of population health sciences and the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said to

"I don't think you can compare it to something globally like malaria, which kills 2 million people per year, most of whom are children."

It would also be helpful to include measures that could be taken to prevent this problem, as opposed to simply declaring it a problem, which Kristi Ebi, lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report, and an independent consultant on the health effects of climate change, also noted to

"For a lot of health issues, at some point people just tune it out," said Ebi. "We hear that this causes cancer and that causes cancer [until at some point] ... the public says 'everything causes' cancer and I'm not going to worry about it.' This is not effective risk communication."

Optimistic, Mr. Brikowski considers his study's results something that experts can use as a starting point to look into "more of these unusual collaborations."

Heather J. Chin can be reached at

©The Evening Bulletin 2008

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