Those who have experienced kidney stones understand how agonizing they can be. While very painful, kidney stones will typically pass on their own without leaving any damage behind. Patients with kidney stones are often prescribed medication and encouraged to wait them out. However, in some instances, kidney stones can become lodged in the urinary tract and cause infections or other serious complications. In these cases, advanced treatment may be necessary to rid the body of these deposits.
Fortunately, recent advancements in medical technology have led to new treatments for kidney stones when surgical intervention is needed. These treatments can help relieve individuals of their kidney stones and even prevent future ones from developing.
What are Kidney Stones?
Kidney stones, also known as lithiasis and nephrolithiasis, are hard, solid deposits made of minerals and salts that develop inside the kidneys. These stones typically form as a result of high concentrations of salt in the urine that eventually crystalize. Kidney stones can occur for a variety of reasons, and while they develop in the kidneys, they can affect all parts of the urinary tract, including the bladder.
Types of Kidney Stones and Their Causes
Many people do not realize that there are different kinds of kidney stones, and in order to prevent them from reoccurring, one must understand the specific causes of each. For this reason, it is important for patients to keep their kidney stones once they’ve passed them, so that they can be evaluated by a doctor. Kidney stones are classified according to the type of salt that forms them; these include:
- Calcium stones: The most common type of kidney stone is a calcium stone. Calcium stones are a form of calcium oxalate, which is a naturally occurring substance. This substance is produced in the liver on a daily basis and is also found in certain foods like fruits, vegetables, chocolate, and nuts. Calcium stones can be caused by a variety of factors including diet, high doses of vitamin D, intestinal bypass surgery, and metabolic disorders.
- Struvite stones: Struvite stones can grow quickly and occur with little warning and little to no symptoms. These stones often form as a side effect of a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney infection.
- Uric acid stones: Uric acid stones are common in those who are not drinking enough fluid or are losing too much fluid. It is also common in people who consume too much protein, are suffering from gout or undergoing chemotherapy. All of these factors can increase the acidity of a person’s urine, thus causing the uric acid.
- Cystine stones: Cystine stones occur in people who suffer from the hereditary disorder, Cystinuria. This condition causes the kidneys to pass too much cystine acid into the urine.
Common Kidney Stone Symptoms
Kidney stones may cause little to no symptoms until they have moved out of the kidney and into the ureter. Once the kidney stone is in the ureter, one may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Severe back or side pain
- Lower abdomen or groin pain
- Fluctuating pain
- Pain when urinating (Dysuria)
- Pink, red or brown urine
- Cloudy or foul-smelling urine
- Nausea and vomiting
- Sudden, persistent urges to urinate
- Frequent urination
- Fever and chills (if area has become infected)
Minor Treatment for Kidney Stones
If a stone is small and causing minimal symptoms, non-invasive treatment is most likely the right option. This typically consists of drinking as much as 2-3 quarts of water per day to help flush the urinary system. Since passing the stone will be very uncomfortable, mild pain relievers are often recommended. In some cases, Alpha Blockers are prescribed to help patients pass their kidney stones. Alpha Blockers work to relax the ureter muscles and help the kidney stone pass with less discomfort.
Advanced Treatment Options for Kidney Stones
When simple remedies and medication are not enough to get a kidney stone to pass, advanced treatment is needed. In some cases, the stones are too big to pass on their own, and other times, the pain has become too severe for the patient to handle. Recent studies and innovative technology have created new, advanced treatments for kidney stones that are changing the way doctors are able to treat patients with the condition.
Shockwave Lithotripsy (SWL) is a non-invasive treatment that breaks down large kidney stones into smaller pieces using high energy shock waves. This allows the new, smaller pieces to be passed through the urinary tract easier. This treatment, also known as “dusting,” is known to be very effective and is the most common surgical option for kidney stones due to the lack of incisions and scaring involved.
Just recently, the new, even higher-powered laser, Moses by Lumenis, has taken Lithotripsy to a new level. This new laser offers a faster and safer option to the original treatment. This procedure uses the laser to target the stone and break it into a fine dust, which is easily passed through the system. This option is safer because of its high accuracy and precision when shocking the stones. The laser also keeps the stones from moving around so much after they have been shocked. The Moses allows for surgeons to get the job done without damaging any surrounding tissue, causing unnecessary bleeding or complications.
This minimally invasive procedure is effective at treating stones that have become stuck in the bladder or ureter. A Ureteroscopy, also known as “basketing,” involves inserting a thin, flexible scope into the ureter and bladder to remove any stones that have traveled from the kidney.
This treatment has seen some advancements as well, which has led to more successful patient outcomes. Traditional, reusable ureteroscopes are expensive, fragile and often require regular maintenance. However, with the development of single-use, disposable scopes, physicians now have a more durable, cost-effective option. Not only are single-use ureteroscopes more cost-effective and sturdy, but studies show they may even have better irrigation flow, flexibility and overall performance.
Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy (PCNL) is a minimally invasive treatment available for kidney stone removal when other procedures have not been successful, or the stones are too large for other treatments. This procedure involves inserting a scope and other instruments via a small incision in the patient’s back to break up and remove the stones.
This surgery has also benefitted from recent developments. The new and improved “mini PCNL” now uses smaller, more accurate instruments, which provides patients with smaller incisions and quicker recovery times. Patients who have undergone mini-PCNL have shown, on average, minor blood loss and shorter hospital stays compared to patients recovering from traditional PCNL.
If you’re experiencing the symptoms commonly associated with kidney stones, make an appointment with your nearest Advanced Urology center today.