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What to Expect When You Need Surgery for Kidney Stones

September 06, 2023

More than 1 in 10 people will have a kidney stone at some point in their lives. It’s estimated that 12% of Americans will develop a kidney stone in their lifetime. Both men and women can get kidney stones, but men’s chances of getting them are about double that of women. Some kidney stones will pass on their own without treatment. Other stones are painful or get stuck in your urinary tract, sometimes leading to surgery. Approximately 10 to 20 percent of all kidney stones require surgical removal. 

Kidney stones are hard deposits made from minerals such as calcium or waste products such as uric acid. They start small, but they can grow bigger as more minerals stick to them. Kidney stones are small, usually between the size of a kernel of corn and a grain of salt. They can form when your body has too much of certain minerals, and at the same time doesn’t have enough liquid. The stones can be brown or yellow, and smooth or rough. 

Brent Zamzow, DO Urology

“Diet, excess body weight, some medical conditions, and certain supplements and medications are among the many causes of kidney stones,” said Brent Zamzow, DO, with West Tennessee Medical Group Urology. “Kidney stones can affect any part of your urinary tract, from your kidneys to your bladder. You can have kidney stones and not have any symptoms. Or the symptoms may not start until your kidney stone goes on the move.”

Several factors can lead to a procedure or surgery to take out kidney stones. “If the stone is very large and can’t pass on its own,” said Zamzow. “Or if you are experiencing a lot of pain or the stone is blocking the flow of urine out of your kidney. You have had many urinary tract infections because of the stone.”

Surgical treatment is usually recommended for stones 0.5 centimeters in size and larger, as well as for patients who fail conservative management. The procedures used today to remove stones are minimally invasive and highly effective. There are four treatments that can be utilized for kidney stones: percutaneous nephrolithotomy, ureteroscopy, shockwave lithotripsy, and open surgery.

Shock wave lithotripsy (SWL) is the most common procedure for kidney stones in the United States. It works best for small or medium stones. It uses shock waves, which can blast the stone into little pieces. Then, the smaller pieces can more easily be passed in your urine. The treatment takes about an hour, and you can usually go home about an hour later. It doesn’t involve any surgical cuts, but there’s still some pain. SWL removes kidney stones in about half of people who have it. If it doesn’t work, you might need to have the procedure repeated.

Ureteroscopy is a procedure that treats stones in your kidneys and ureters. The doctor uses a thin, flexible scope to find and remove stones. They won’t make any cuts in your skin, but you will be asleep during this procedure. The doctor will pass the scope through your bladder and ureter into your kidney. They’ll use a small basket to remove small stones. If the stones are larger, the doctor will pass a laser through the scope to break them up. Most people go home the same day.

Percutaneous nephrolithotomy is a minimally invasive procedure that is used to remove large stones from the kidney which do not respond well to other procedures, or when there is a large number of small stones in one kidney. In this procedure, a small hole is cut in your back and through your kidney to remove the stone. If this procedure is done, you could have to stay in the hospital for several days. Usually, a stent will have to stay in your kidney for a few days to help urine drain. Your doctor might do an X-ray or ultrasound a few weeks later to see whether any parts of the stone are left. 

Open surgery is rarely done for kidney stones anymore as it is the most invasive type of kidney stone surgery.  Doctors only recommend open surgery when all other procedures are not suitable. But if your stone is very large or it can’t be removed or crushed with other treatments, surgery might be an option. You will be given something to make you unconscious during the procedure. The surgeon will make a cut in your side and into your kidney. Then remove the stone through the opening. A stent is placed in the ureter to help urine drain. You may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. It can take 4 to 6 weeks to fully heal after open surgery.

If surgery for a kidney stone is on your horizon, make sure you discuss the risks and benefits of each of your treatment options with your surgeon. West Tennessee Medical Group’s Urology has professionals who can help treat your kidney stone surgically.