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Laser Kidney Stone Surgery

written by: mslate • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 11/3/2008

New improvements in kidney stone surgery make the procedure more effective.

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    Recent advancements within the last 10 years have led to improvements in the procedures for removing kidney stones from the body. One of those advances has been the development of laser lithotripsy. This treatment breaks down kidney stones without making any incisions. This means more comfort for the patient and less recovery time.

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    What is Laser Lithotripsy?

    Laser lithotripsy uses a laser that is mounted on the end of a fiber optic scope. The scope is inserted into the patient’s body through the urethra and bladder up to the ureter. Once the scope is advanced to the level of the stone, the laser is turned on and the stone is pulverized.

    The holmium YAG laser offer advantages over previous types of lasers. Lasers for lithotripsy were first used in the late 1980's but were limited in power by the diameter of the fiber used. Larger fibers meant more power, but they were more rigid and less suited to the environment which demanded flexibility and freedom of movement. The YAG holmium also is capable of producing smaller stone fragments than previous laser treatments.

    This method is rapidly replacing traditional lithotripsy for the removal of kidney stones. The advantages of laser surgery over traditional lithotripsy are that there is a higher first time rate of success with laser surgery than with traditional lithotripsy methods and the laser is more effective on complex stones. The patient can resume their daily routine within one to two days of the procedure.

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    Potential Complications

    The holmium laser melts up to 100% of kidney stones and is useful on all kidney stone types and compositions.The laser has an excellent safety record.

    Lithotripsy laser surgery is not without complications; the patient may experience bleeding for a few days after the procedure. Complication rates for any type of Intracorporeal surgery for kidney stones is approximately 3%. The incidence of major complications is approximately 1%. Other complications from the procedure can include infection, tissue scarring, and fluid overload (most common in patients with heart disease or the very young).

    With its high safety rating, low rate of complications and quicker recovery time, the laser lithotripsy procedure is viewed by many as the most effective way to remove kidney stones that cannot be passed from the body.