Kidney stone crystals

The West

With its extensive infrastructure and resources, the West is better placed to withstand climate change – but it will not escape unscathed

Rich countries can take steps to prepare for climate change, and their health systems are better equipped to respond to new challenges, such as:

  • more heat-waves and heat-related illness
  • more respiratory conditions (due to allergens such as pollen, as higher carbon dioxide levels accelerate plant growth)
  • the impact of extreme weather – flooding or severe storms
  • new or more cases of infectious diseases: Lyme disease may become more common, and more Salmonella and other intestinal infections are likely (it is unlikely, however, that ‘tropical’ diseases such as malaria will pose a big problem in the UK)
  • skin cancers may increase (if people spend more time outside).

The impacts of climate change may not always be obvious. For example, the incidence of kidney stones is expected to increase – research in the USA has identified a link between temperature and a ‘kidney stone belt’ in southern states. Thanks to greater dehydration, a risk factor for kidney-stone disease, higher temperatures will cause an additional 1.6 million to 2.2 million kidney stone cases in the USA by 2050.

Economically, countries will need to devote resources to preparing for climate change and taking steps to minimise its impact. In the UK £17.2m is spent by the government annually on preparations for climate change.

Lead image:

Kidney stones are hard crystalline structures formed in the urinary tract. These crystals are composed of different combinations of chemicals, normally salts and minerals, which separate from urine and solidify. Kidney stones can vary in size and those less than 5mm are normally passed naturally by drinking lots of fluids. This image shows a 5mm stone formed from calcium oxalate crystals.

Annie Cavanagh/Wellcome Images CC BY NC ND


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development