Kidney Stones Are a Pain, But Minimally Invasive Treatments Can Help
Kidney stones. Even the name sounds painful, and the idea of a hard, rock-like substance passing through the body isn’t pleasant. Climate and diet put Southerners more at risk of developing kidney stones . Fortunately, kidney stones rarely cause permanent damage when treated by a medical professional, and there are several minimally invasive treatments available to speed up resolution and recovery.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones, also called renal lithiasis or nephrolithiasis, are hard deposits and salts that form in the kidney. Although many factors can cause a kidney stone to develop, it often occurs when the urine becomes concentrated, and minerals contained in the urine crystallize and clump together.
Stones can form at any point in the urinary tract, which includes the kidneys, ureters, bladder and urethra. Once stones have formed, they must exit the body through the urinary tract. But because the stones can vary from as small as a sugar crystal to as large as a ping pong ball, the size of the stone can determine whether it can pass on its own and how much pain it may cause in the process.
Symptoms of a Kidney Stone Include:
Sharp pain in the back, side or abdomen that may radiate to the lower abdomen and groin
Pain that may come in waves or vary in intensity
Blood in the urine
Urinating small amounts
Nausea and vomiting
Fever and chills
Treatment of Kidney Stones
If you have a small stone and the discomfort is tolerable, your doctor may recommend you drink two to three quarts of water a day to flush out the urinary system. If you choose to do this, you may want to consider taking pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen. Your doctor also may prescribe an alpha blocker to relax the ureter muscles to help pass the kidney stone more quickly.
Larger stones may not pass on their own and may require medical intervention. Several types of treatments are available for kidney stones. Endourologists — urologists who specialize in the diagnosis and minimally invasive treatment of the urinary tract — typically suggest these three possibilities:
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) uses shock waves to break a large stone into smaller pieces that can travel more easily out of the body. ESWL is the most common treatment for stones and works best on stones that are less than two centimeters. This outpatient procedure involves sending 1,000 to 2,000 shock waves to the stone in a treatment process that lasts 45 to 60 minutes.
Flexible and rigid ureteroscopy uses tiny scopes to access the ureter and kidney. Small devices or lasers within those scopes break down the stones into smaller pieces. The fragments are then removed using basket extraction.
Percutaneous nephrolithotomy/nephrolithotripsy is a more involved procedure, using small telescopes and instruments inserted through an incision in your back to remove or crush stones. This process may be used for larger stones. Although this process requires general anesthesia and a longer recovery time, it is still less invasive than full open kidney stone surgery.
If you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above or think you have kidney stones, it’s time to see your doctor. Based on your history and diagnosis, your doctor can recommend the best treatment. If you are interested in a minimally invasive procedure, find out if your urologist specializes in endourology.
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