Stones in the kidney and ureter now affect almost one person in ten in Europe, the European Association of Urology has just confirmed. This figure has more than doubled since 1982, with urologists attributing the majority of the rise to the changes in European lifestyles which have led to increasing prevalence of obesity and the metabolic syndrome. The EAU said that this is causing an unacceptable level of suffering, and estimates that around 55 million adults in Europe are affected.
Kidney or ureter stones can be amongst the most painful experiences known. In the past, this was seen as a "Cinderella disease," a disease which was reasonably common but with little public visibility. Now however the growing prevalence of kidney and ureter stones is leading to a "mini-epidemic," causing greater concern amongst European doctors. Because of these concerns, the EAU is releasing new Europe-wide patient information, as part of an effort to drive up both public awareness and standards of care.
The prevalence of stones in the kidney and ureter has been rising steadily over the last 30 years, and in response the EAU is calling for greater clinician and patient awareness. Figures vary from country to country, so it is difficult to get exact prevalence -- especially since the factors causing the increase, diet and obesity, can vary dramatically throughout Europe. In fact, according to the EAU there is a shortage of good Europe-wide statistics for stone incidence. The best European estimates, based on international figures is that the prevalence has more than doubled in the last 30 years, leading to around 55m Europeans who suffer from stones. The EAU says that this increase underlines the need for increased patient awareness and better-quality monitoring.
Stones are caused by minerals or acid salts crystallising in the kidney. From there, they may move down into the ureter, which is the tube which carries urine from the kidney to the bladder. In the worst situation, a stone can block the ureter. This causes severe pain -- in fact this has been estimated to be the worst pain known: it requires immediate emergency treatment. More men are affected by stones than women, although changing lifestyles are tending to even out the balance. Increasing numbers of younger people are also being affected.
Incidence and awareness of what is now a common condition varies from country to country, depending on a variety of factors. However it seems that "lifestyle" factors, such as diet, are leading to the increasing problem. The EAU is concerned at this increase, and is launching its patient information initiative during Urology Week (17-21 September) so that patients in each country can have access to the very best level of information on how to avoid stones occurring, and what to do when they arise.
According to EAU spokesperson, Professor Palle J.S. Osther (Fredericia Hospital, Denmark, and the Chairman, EAU Section of Urolithiasis): "The number of adults with stones in the kidney or the ureter has more than doubled in just a generation, but we have not seen a corresponding increase in awareness. The figures speak for themselves -- I have been practicing since 1980, and I have seen a significant and worrying increase in cases.
It has always been one of these conditions which hasn't been much talked about, but this condition is now common, and can be extremely painful. In the wrong circumstances, it can also be life threatening if not recognised and treated. Nearly one person in 10 will suffer from a stone during their lifetime, which means that we are looking at up to 50 million adult sufferers in Europe, which would be equivalent to every adult in Italy, France or the UK having kidney stones.
Some countries have higher incidence of kidney stones than others -- in some cases, much higher. This means that awareness of the condition, how to deal with it, and even standards of treatment, vary enormously from county to country.
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