Experts Warn of Growing Trend as Kidney Stone Prevalence Increases Among UAE’s Youth
A growing number of people in the UAE are being diagnosed with kidney stones at an earlier age, with residents more likely to develop the painful condition due to a combination of diet and climate, one of the UAE’s leading urologists has warned.
A kidney stone, known as renal calculi, is a solid mass that is formed from substances, such as calcium, oxalate, urate and cysteine, in the urine. Dehydration is a major risk factor and these stone-forming substances become highly concentrated when there are not enough liquids to flush them out of the body through the urine.
Dr. Zaki Almallah, a consultant urologist and physician in the Surgical Subspecialties Institute at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, one of the region’s leading multispecialty hospitals, said he was seeing a growing trend in which young adults were seeking treatment for kidney stones in the hospital’s emergency department.
“Previously, middle-aged men were most likely to develop kidney stones,” said Dr. Almallah. “This is no longer the case as there has been a jump in the number of young adults and women in the UAE seeking treatment for kidney stones due to their lifestyles and related diseases, such as obesity.
“The youngest patients we have seen recently have been around 14 years old – a boy and a girl with kidney stones. There’s no doubt it is now happening across all ages and genders, which is concerning.”
Kidney stone symptoms include acute pain in the lower back or side of the body, which can result in a trip to the emergency department; nausea and/or vomiting with the pain; blood in the urine; pain when urinating; the need to urinate more; fever/chills; and urine that smells bad or looks cloudy.
While a family history can increase the risk of kidney stones developing, a sedentary lifestyle, bad diet and climate are also major contributors.
“Coupled with a low fluid intake, a diet that is low in fiber and high in salt and meat can increase the chances of kidney stones forming regardless of age or sex,” said Dr. Almallah.
“The UAE is also part of the so-called ‘global kidney stone belt’, which stretches from the Gobi Desert in China through to India, the Middle East, North Africa, the southern states of the US and Mexico. This means that the hot, dry weather conditions put people at greater risk of kidney stones as they are losing more fluids and not compensating for it.”
Depending on the size and position of the kidney stone, Dr. Almallah said 90 to 95 per cent of them passed naturally. Drinking plenty of fluids can help the kidney stone pass through the urinary tract, but this can take up to two to three weeks.
There are three types of state-of-the-art procedures that urology specialists at Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi use to treat kidney stones, all of them minimally invasive. Shock wave lithotripsy is the least invasive and uses high-velocity, high-frequency soundwaves to shatter the stones from outside the body, enabling them to easily be passed through urine. Ureteroscopy, which uses laser technology to break up the stones, is another procedure, while physicians use keyhole, or percutaneous nephrolithotomy, surgery to treat large or multiple stones.
“Once a stone develops, you cannot dissolve it and the chances of developing another stone within a period of three years rises to 50 per cent, which is very high,” said Dr. Almallah. “Prevention is important and this begins with drinking plenty of water.”
November is Bladder Health Awareness Month and Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi has launched an education campaign to help the public understand the importance of managing their bladder health.