"Silent" kidney stones, those that cause no symptoms, are often found when an X-ray is taken during a health exam. Other people have their stones diagnosed when sudden pain occurs while the stone is passing, and medical attention is needed. When a person has blood in the urine (hematuria) or sudden abdominal or side pain, tests like an ultrasound or a CT scan may diagnose a stone. These imaging tests tell the health care provider how big the stone is and where it is located. A CT scan is often used in the ER when a stone is suspected. It is used because it can make a quick and exact diagnosis.
Kidney stones should be removed by surgery if they cause repeated infections in the urine or because they are blocking the flow of urine from the kidney. Today, surgery usually involves small or no incisions (cuts), minor pain and minimal time off work.
Surgeries to remove stones in the kidneys or ureters are Shock wave lithotripsy and minimally invasive surgery Ureteroscopy (URS) as well as Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL)Shock Wave Lithotripsy (SWL) is used to treat stones in the kidney and ureter. Shock waves are focused on the stone using X-rays or ultrasound to pinpoint the stone. Repeated firing of shock waves on the stone usually causes the stone to break into small pieces. These smaller pieces of stones pass out in the urine over a few weeks Because of possible discomfort caused by the shock waves and the need to control breathing during the procedure, some form of anesthesia is often needed. SWL does not work well on hard stones, such as cystine, some types of calcium oxalate and calcium phosphate stones, or very large stones.
With SWL, you may go home the same day as the procedure. You may be able to resume normal activities in two to three days. You may also be given a strainer to collect the stone pieces as they pass. These pieces will be sent to the laboratory to be tested.
Although SWL is widely used and considered very safe, it can still cause side effects. You may have blood in your urine for a few days after treatment. Most stone pieces pass painlessly. Larger pieces may get stuck in the ureter, causing pain and needing other removal procedures.
Ureteroscopy (URS) is used to treat stones in the kidney and ureter. URS involves passing a very small telescope, called an ureteroscope, into the bladder, up the ureter and into the kidney. Rigid telescopes are used for stones in the lower part of the ureter near the bladder. Flexible telescopes are used to treat stones in the upper ureter and kidney.
The ureteroscope lets the urologist see the stone without making an incision (cuts). General anesthesia keeps you comfortable during the URS procedure. A zebra guidewire or hydrophilic guidewire is used for guiding the ureteroscope to the stone site. An access sheath will be used when placing the flexible telescopes. Once the urologist sees the stone with the ureteroscope, a small stone retrieve basket device grabs smaller stones and removes them. If a stone is too large to remove in one piece, it can be broken into smaller pieces with a laser or other stone-breaking tools.
Once the stone has been removed whole or in pieces, the health care provider may place a temporary stent in the ureter. A stent is a tiny, rigid plastic tube that helps hold the ureter open so that urine can drain from the kidney into the bladder. Unlike a catheter or PCNL drain tube, this tube is completely within the body and does not require an external bag to collect urine.
You may go home the same day as the URS and can begin normal activities in two to three days. If your urologist places a stent, he or she will remove it four to 10 days later. Sometimes a string is left on the end of the stent so you can remove it on your own. It is very important that the stent is removed when your health care provider tells you. Leaving the stent in for long periods can cause an infection and loss of kidney function.
Percutaneous Lithotripsy (PCNL) is the best treatment for large stones in the kidney. General anesthesia is needed to do a PCNL. PCNL involves making a half-inch incision (cut) in the back or side, just large enough to allow a rigid telescope (nephroscope) to be passed into the hollow center part of the kidney where the stone is located.
The guidewires and renal dialators set passed through and guided the nephroscope breaks up the stone and suctions out the pieces. The ability to suction pieces makes PCNL the best treatment choice for large stones.
After the PCNL, a tube is usually left in the kidney to drain urine into a bag outside of the body. This will allow for drainage of urine and stop any bleeding. The tube is left in overnight or for a few days. You may have to stay in the hospital overnight after this operation.
Your urologist may choose to do X-rays while you are still in the hospital to see if any stone pieces remain. If there are any, your urologist may want to look back into the kidney with a telescope again to remove them. You can begin normal activities after about one-to-two weeks.