Rising temperatures could raise the prevalence of kidney stones, especially in the so-called “kidney stone belt” of the Deep South, University of Texas researchers predict.

There is a known geographic variation in stone disease that has been attributed to regional differences in temperature,” notes Margaret Pearle, MD, PhD, professor of urology at UT Southwestern and senior author of the paper. “This study is one of the first examples of global warming causing a direct medical consequence for humans.”

Theorizing that global warming will encourage dehydration, they expect an additional 1.6 million to 2.2 million additional kidney-stone cases by 2050, with the incidence rising as much as 30% in some places.

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The team started with data on global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. Using two studies that reported kidney-stone rates in various geographic regions and correlating regional rates with local mean annual temperatures, they created two mathematical models relating temperature to kidney-stone risk. One foresees a concentration of new cases in the southern half of the United States; the other predicts a significant rise in the upper Midwest.

The findings are reported online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.