Kidney stones are a common occurrence, sending over three million Americans to the doctor each year. These buildups of minerals within the kidneys can be harmless and pass unnoticed when you urinate.
When they are too large to pass, they may become painful and necessitate treatment.
Surgical treatment of kidney stones is not always the first step. Sometimes, doctors will urge their patients to try to flush the stones out without surgery. Stones that are as tiny as grains of sand can pass through the urinary tract unnoticed. However, if they grow, or become stuck, surgery may be necessary.
Laser lithotripsy is a minimally invasive treatment used to rid the body of kidney stones. There are two ways that this treatment works.
First, the laser may be used to break up stones that are too big to pass or are irregular in size. Some doctors prefer to use a laser to break up larger stones, rather than subjecting the patient to more invasive surgery. The hope is that by breaking up the stone, your body can easily pass the remaining fragments. Your doctor may also place a stent into your ureter to widen the passageway, making it easier for the stones to exit your body.
Normally, the pieces of stone will pass through your urine within the next 24 hours after the procedure. You may notice a burning sensation when urinating. Drinking lots of fluids in the hours after the procedure may help minimize the burning.
There may be reasons your doctor does not want the stones to pass naturally. In this case, the laser will be used to break up the stones, but a small tube will be inserted into the ureter. The end of the tube contains a basket that will scoop out the pieces of stone and remove them. The remaining tiny fragments should then pass easily.
A family history of forming kidney stones puts you at higher risk for developing them yourself. If you have suffered from gout, constant UTIs, or some other hereditary disease, you may also be more likely to form stones that don’t pass easily. Certain foods, such as dairy and highly acidic foods, are thought to aid in the forming of these mineral deposits. If you have risk factors for developing kidney stones, make sure you drink lots of water to keep everything moving through your urinary tract more easily and prevent the deposits from sticking together to form stones.