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Alternatives to Kidney Stone Surgery

Kidney stone removal is big business. Millions of people suffer from kidney stones every year. And even though surgery is required at times, alternatives to kidney stone surgery are usually preferred by doctor and patient alike.

Currently, there are five main options when it comes to removing a kidney stone. Some are not invasive to the body at all, some are minimally invasive, and then you have surgery.

This article looks at the advantages and disadvantages of each method. Hopefully it will help you determine the best course of action for you or a loved one should the need arise.

Method #1: Do Nothing

Well, you don’t really do nothing. But this is the most body-friendly of the alternatives to kidney stone surgery.

This method basically involves changing daily habits to help your body eliminate the stone. For example, you can drink a lot more water throughout the day. You can also cut back on certain foods (like dairy), and try to get more fiber in your diet.

Consider Adopting the Kidney Stone Diet

This method works best for smaller kidney stones. When this method works, the stone is removed from the body during the normal urination process.

NOTE: Even if the patient is not experiencing pain from the stone, the urination can be extremely painful. Guys in particular who have eliminated stones this way have said it was “the worst pain I’ve ever felt.”

Method #2: Lithotripsy

This is another alternative to kidney stone surgery that is considered non-invasive. With lithotripsy, the patient lies on a table or in a tub. The doctor then uses focused shock waves to break up the stone.  Once the stone is broken up, it is passed out of the body through the urine.

There are a few issues with this procedure. Sometimes the stone is not completely eliminated from the body. In fact, roughly 42% of patients who receive a lithotripsy develop a new kidney stone within two years. This occurs if the stone’s fragments are not completely flushed out.

Another problem with this method is that the broken up stone can still be in large pieces. If they are too large, the patient might need a cystoscopy and stent inserted to help eliminate the pieces through the urine.

This is considered the easiest procedure to have done.

Method #3: Endoscopic Treatment

A minimally invasive alternative to kidney stone surgery, this is a bit more uncomfortable for patients. The urologist starts by sending a small scope into the bladder and kidneys. He can then either manually remove the stone, or break it up with a laser and remove the pieces. Patients go home the same day, and no incision is required as it uses the body’s urinary tract to access the stone.

Patients usually go home the same day as this procedure. Endoscopic treatment has a success rate of 80-90%, depending on the size of the stone and the location.

This procedure is considered minimally invasive because no incisions are required. Instead, it is using the patient’s urinary tract to access and remove the stone.

Method #4: Percutaneous Nephrolithotomy

That’s a pretty crazy name, but it isn’t too hard to understand. This procedure usually takes place if the stone is quite large or not in a suitable location for other methods.

This treatment involves a small incision in the back, directly into the kidney. The surgeon then uses a nephroscope to locate and remove the kidney stone. If the stone is large, an ultrasonic or electro hydraulic probe will be used to break the stone up into smaller pieces. The pieces can then be removed with the nephroscope.

A major advantage of this procedure is that it allows the surgeon to directly remove the stone. Therefore, no painful passive through the rest of the urinary tract is required. However, it is still a fairly invasive procedure.

Method #5: Open Surgery

The last- and by far most invasive- procedure is kidney stone surgery. This used to be the only way to treat kidney stones, and is still required for thousands of patients each year.

As you might expect, this involves cutting into the torso and affected kidney. The incision is larger than the one used in Method #4, because the tiny nephroscope is not used here.

These days, the only situation where I might recommend this instead of Method #4 is in case of an emergency. If your kidney stone needs to get out now, surgery may be required. But generally, the other methods can usually be used to remove the kidney stone.


So there you have it- the 5 main ways to treat a kidney stone.  I highly recommend using the alternatives to kidney stone surgery in most situations. Open surgery is just too invasive and requires 4-6 weeks to recover.

That said, if permanent damage to your body is at stake, open surgery may be your best way to go.



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