What Are the Best Ways to Break Up Kidney Stones?

Kidney stones next to a ruler to show the size.
A kidney with a kidney stone.
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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 16 April 2014
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A kidney stone is a mass of small crystal-like structures that may appear in either kidney. These stones sometimes move into the ureter, a small tube that travels from the kidney to the bladder. If the stone causes a complete urine blockage or is too large to pass naturally, a medical procedure to break up kidney stones may become necessary. There are various types of surgical procedures that can be performed in order to break down kidney stones, and the doctor will decide which method is most appropriate for the individual patient.

Ureteroscopy is a common procedure used to break up kidney stones. In this procedure, a thin device that resembles a small telescope is inserted into the urethra, the tube that leads from the bladder to the outside of the body. This device then passes through the bladder and into the ureter until it reaches the stone. At this point, a device such as a laser is used to break up the stone, and the fragments are passed through the urine by the patient.


Lithotripsy is another procedure often used to break up kidney stones, especially when the stone is located in the upper portion of the ureter. This method is not recommended in patients who have extraordinarily large stones or other medical conditions, such as cysts on the kidney, which would make this type of procedure dangerous for the patient. Sound waves or controlled electrical impulses are used to break up the stones, with the fragments being passed normally by the patient.

Ureteroscopic kidney stone removal is sometimes used as a method to break up kidney stones. In this procedure, the patient is placed under general anesthesia, meaning that the patient is not awake during the surgery. A small instrument is placed into the ureter and through the bladder and ureter. Small stones may be completely removed, but larger stones must be broken into smaller fragments using a device such as a laser. Sometimes, a small tube known as a stent is left in place for a few days to prevent the kidney stone fragments from becoming lodged in the ureter, leading to a blockage.

In some cases, open surgery is necessary in order to break up kidney stones. The patient is placed under general anesthesia, and an incision is made in the back at the location of the kidney. The stone is then broken up or removed completely. This method is not used frequently since newer and less invasive procedures have been developed, allowing the patient to heal more quickly than with open surgery.


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