Calcium nephrolithiasis: effect of water hardness on urinary electrolytes

Urology. 2002 Jul;60(1):23-7. doi: 10.1016/s0090-4295(02)01631-x.


Objectives: To analyze the impact of water hardness from public water supplies on calcium stone incidence and 24-hour urine chemistries in patients with known calcium urinary stone formation. Patients are frequently concerned that their public water supply may contribute to urinary stone disease. Investigators have documented an inverse relationship between water hardness and calcium lithogenesis. Others have found no such association.

Methods: Patients who form calcium stones (n = 4833) were identified geographically by their zip code. Water hardness information from distinct geographic public water supplies was obtained, and patient 24-hour urine chemistries were evaluated. Drinking water hardness was divided into decile rankings on the basis of the public water supply information obtained from the Environmental Protection Agency. These data were compared with patient questionnaires and 24-hour urine chemistries. The calcium and magnesium levels in the drinking water were analyzed as independent variables.

Results: The number of total lifetime stone episodes was similar between patients residing in areas with soft public water and hard public water. Patients consuming the softest water decile formed 3.4 lifetime stones and those who consumed the hardest water developed 3.0 lifetime stones (P = 0.0017). The 24-hour urine calcium, magnesium, and citrate levels increased directly with drinking water hardness, and no significant change was found in urinary oxalate, uric acid, pH, or volume.

Conclusions: The impact of water hardness on urinary stone formation remains unclear, despite a weak correlation between water hardness and urinary calcium, magnesium, and citrate excretion. Tap water, however, can change urinary electrolytes in patients who form calcium stones.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Ambulatory Care
  • Calcium / analysis*
  • Calcium / urine
  • Calcium Carbonate / analysis*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electrolytes / urine*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnesium / analysis
  • Magnesium / urine
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Oxalates / urine
  • Sex Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Uric Acid / urine
  • Urinary Calculi / chemistry
  • Urinary Calculi / epidemiology*
  • Urinary Calculi / urine
  • Water / chemistry
  • Water Softening / adverse effects
  • Water Softening / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Supply / analysis*
  • Water Supply / standards


  • Electrolytes
  • Oxalates
  • Water
  • Uric Acid
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Magnesium
  • Calcium