Surgeon warns of obesity-related kidney stone 'timebomb'

A leading surgeon based at Southampton's teaching hospitals has warned the UK is sitting on a kidney stone "timebomb" fuelled by the growing obesity crisis.

Bhaskar Somani, a consultant urological surgeon at Southampton General Hospital, said annual admissions for renal stone treatment were increasing by between 5% and 10% - with prevalence 75% higher in obese patients.

He said poor diets and lifestyles were a "key contributory factor" in the development of the condition, with consumption of too much animal protein and levels of salt creating a "breeding ground" for kidney stones.

“Nearly two-thirds of men and women in the UK are obese (body mass index (BMI) over 30) or overweight (BMI over 25), with 25% of adults classed as obese, and we know diet and lifestyle can be a major cause of stones,” he explained.

“When you consider the total number of hospital admissions for patients with stone episodes increased by 63% to more than 80,000 a year over the past decade, it is clear to see we have a problem.”

The condition, which affects around 10% to 20% of the male population and 3% to 5% of women between the ages of 20 and 60 years, develops when crystals of salt accumulate into stone-like lumps.

Although the body tries to pass stones out of the urinary system, they can lodge in the kidney tube and cause severe abdominal and groin pain which, in many cases, can only be corrected through surgery.

Mr Somani said: “In the last 20 years, male obesity has doubled from 13% to 24.5% and female obesity has risen from 16% to 25%, with poor eating habits involving excessive protein and salt intake known to fuel the build-up of chemicals in the urine.

“Obesity also contributes to the development of diabetes and high blood pressure and, when all three are linked, they create a condition called metabolic syndrome which further exacerbates stone formation.”

He added: “Kidney stones are often a forgotten outcome of weight gain and obesity, but the impact of the condition on people's quality of life should not be underestimated.

“Stones are a timebomb and, in a large number of cases, will be an indication of someone going on to suffer other serious health problems unless actions are taken to improve lifestyle.

“But, if we can intervene now and raise awareness of these health issues, a reduction in kidney stones will be accompanied by a positive impact on the prevalence obesity among the population.”

Mr Somani said there was now an urgent need to drive home the message that a healthy lifestyle, diet and fluid intake is the best way to prevent the development and recurrence of stones and other health problems.

He added all adults could make a start by aiming to drink between two to three litres of water a day to reduce the risk of developing stones, while those who have previously suffered from stones should maintain a daily intake of three litres or more to avoid recurrence.

Posted on Friday 12 December 2014