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Stories focused on energy & environment topics throughout the state of Kansas.

Kidney Stones And Other Health Worries You Didn't Know Climate Change Would Bring To Kansas

A bank in downtown Topeka reflects recent high temperatures.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Kansas News Service
A bank in downtown Topeka reflects recent high temperatures.

TOPEKA ― The “Kidney Stone Belt” is a thing, and it’s coming for Kansas.

Climate change is expanding that swath of America, currently in the south and southeast, that suffers much higher rates of this sometimes-excruciating renal complication.

By 2050, the belt will include Kansas, according to a new reviewby the Kansas Health Institute.

The nonprofit, which along with the Kansas News Service receives funding from the Kansas Health Foundation, looked at the best science on how hotter temperatures and other changes will affect our bodies here in the Wheat State.

Here are some highlights.

Your kidneys

When temps rise, you sweat more and urinate less. That means more kidney stones and chronic kidney damage.

A National Academy of Sciences paper predicted the kidney stone belt will envelop most of Kansas by 2050.
Credit National Academy of Sciences bit.ly/2MZlxrD
A National Academy of Sciences paper predicted the kidney stone belt will envelop most of Kansas by 2050.

Already, the health institute says, research shows more kidney failures happen during heat waves. And Kansas risks seeing a lot more heat.

Though climate change will mean a drier western Kansas and a wetter eastern Kansas, scientists predict the whole state will get warmer. How much? Compared to the first 60 years of the 20th century, Kansas will grow anywhere from 2 to 14 degrees Fahrenheit warmer ⁠— and maybe more. (That range reflects the fact that policymakers may or may not take action to curb climate change, the report explains.)

Your heart

Most Kansas residents now believe in climate change, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, but only about half pin the blame on humans despite ample scientific evidence.

Regardless, people should expect more cardiovascular disease in the coming decades. As with so many other health conditions, more people land in the hospital with heart problems when summer heat is at its worst.

Rural Kansas residents are particularly skeptical (counties in shades of blue) that humans cause climate change.
Credit Yale 2018 climate opinion maps. bit.ly/2MZxSgE
Rural Kansas residents are particularly skeptical (counties in shades of blue) that humans cause climate change.

Put irregular heartbeat and ischemic heart disease on the list of problems that may increase (the latter is when arteries narrow, reducing the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart and potentially causing heart attacks).

Your lungs

In the past few decades, the annual pollen season in the Heartland has lengthened 10 to 18 days.

But that’s not all that’s changing. Bigger daily doses of smog, carbon dioxide and other kinds of pollutants will take their toll on our respiratory systems and compound the effects. Pollution can exacerbate fungal spores and other sneeze-worthy things, especially for those already affected by things like asthma, KHI’s research brief notes.

Tiny airborne pollutants also get stuck in our lungs or make it into our bloodstream, the institute says, and science links that to wheezing, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and shorter lives. A new study of several U.S. cities found today’s ozone levels already cause lung damage normally associated with heavy smokers.

The rest of your body

Milder winters bolster the ranks of mosquitoes and ticks out there, and longer summers give them more days to bite you.

Compared to half a century ago, the season for mosquito-borne illnesses has lengthened 18 days in the state’s south and 13 in the north, the Kansas Health Institute says. From 2004 to 2016, the number of people getting sick from tick bites increased 20 times over.

Number of annual cases in Kansas of illnesses from mosquito and tick bites.
Credit The Centers for Disease Control. bit.ly/2Z30k3z
Number of annual cases in Kansas of illnesses from mosquito and tick bites.

That’s annoying enough, but of course most important is what they spread ⁠— West Nile virus and Lyme disease, which can cause fatigue, fever, joint pain, spinal inflammation and more.

We can mitigate the risk of these diseases and other problems brought by global warming to some extent. But it’ll take work, and lots of it. This could range from greater public investments in mosquito control to better educating ourselves on the habits that help stave off kidney stones. (Hint: Cutting back on meat, eating at home more often, and downing loads of water.)

Who’ll have it worst?

People with physical disabilities or mental illness or living in cities. Infants. The elderly, especially those who have conditions like dementia. Workers who pave roads and toil on farms, and others constantly in the sun.

KHI says these groups of people are more vulnerable to heat stress and other health risks.

Because the U.S. already has glaring health disparities in poor neighborhoods and communities of color, the American Public Health Association says, they’ll be disproportionately affected by the changes, too.

Celia Llopis-Jepsen reports on consumer health and education for the Kansas News Service. You can follow her on Twitter @Celia_LJ or email her at celia (at) kcur (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on the health and well-being of Kansans, their communities and civic life.

Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

Copyright 2019 KCUR 89.3

Celia Llopis-Jepsen is based in the Kansas News Service’s Topeka newsroom. She writes about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. He aims to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.
Celia Llopis-Jepsen
Celia comes to the Kansas News Service after five years at the Topeka Capital-Journal. She brings in-depth experience covering schools and education policy in Kansas as well as news at the Statehouse. In the last year she has been diving into data reporting. At the Kansas News Service she will also be producing more radio, a medium she’s been yearning to return to since graduating from Columbia University with a master’s in journalism.