Since the 1980s, lasers have been used in the treatment of painful kidney stones. Lasers are used when kidney stones fail to pass through the body after several days, it provides a quick and low-pain way to break up the stone and allow the stones to be easily passed through the body.
What Are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones are a painful condition where crystals present in the urine separate and form a hard mass inside the body. Because kidney stones may reach a large size, they can block the ureter, which is only millimeters wide, and cause pain, nausea and vomiting. When a kidney stone does not pass through the body after 30 days, a physician may recommend surgery, such as laser lithotripsy to break up the stones.
Finding the Right Patient
Not every patient who has larger kidney stones is a candidate for laser lithotripsy. The laser approach is best for kidney stones larger than 5 millimeters in the lower part of the ureter. For stones in other parts of the body, alternate options may be recommended.
The procedure requires that a patient be placed under anesthesia and typically takes one to three hours dependent upon the size and location of the stone.
How It Works
A lithotripsy (lith-oh-trip-see) procedure is any approach that uses an instrument to break kidney stones into smaller parts. For the laser approach, a physician inserts a optical fiber often no bigger than a hair into the patients' ureter, drawing the fiber upward until it reaches the kidney stones. The laser is activated, and the energy burst causes the stone to break apart while leaving the ureter's tissue unharmed.
Expelling the Stones
Once the stones burst, the remaining pieces are passed through the ureter and expelled in the urine. A physician also may opt to insert a catheter that removes the pieces immediately following the laser procedure.
A stay in the hospital was required in the early years of the procedure, but today it is considered an outpatient procedure.
Side effects from surgery include nausea due to the anesthesia and blood in the urine due to irritation.