Medical advances have made the need for surgery less common in combating kidney stones. If the stones won't pass by themselves, urologists often try bursting the stones with sound waves through a non-invasive procedure called lipotripsy. But when lipotripsy fails, a surgical procedure is sometimes the only way to get rid of the painful intruders. Recovery time varies depending on the type of procedure.
A urologist may decide on surgery if the patient is in extreme pain, the stones are blocking urine flow, the stones are causing a urinary tract infection, the danger of tissue damage is present or if the stones are simply too large to pass. Before any determination is made, the patient will undergo a battery of tests to see exactly where the stones are. The urologist then meets with the patient to discuss the various options for removing the stones.
With percutaneous nephrolithotomy surgery, the surgeon removes the stones through a small incision in the back. Ureteroscopic surgery is recommended for stones lodged in the lower ureter. For this procedure, the surgeon uses a ureteroscope to pull the stone from the ureter. Parathyroid surgery is performed with a radio-guided probe to remove a benign tumor on a parathyroid gland. Such tumors can produce excess calcium and form stones. In rare cases, the surgeon must open the kidney to remove the stone.
As with any surgery, there are risks with kidney-stone surgery. The first involves the anesthesia. While most patients have no problems with it, there are some possible side effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, they include temporary mental confusion, lung infections, stroke, heart attack and death. A torn ureter during ureteroscopic surgery is another concern with stone surgery. Patients are also checked for continuous bleeding following any type of stone removal procedure.
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Minimally invasive surgery has a shorter recovery time than open kidney surgery. For example, patients undergoing ureteroscopic surgery can expect a full recovery in a couple of days. Recovery time for percutaneous nephrolithotomy is about one to two weeks. Parathyroid surgery patients usually recover in one day. The normal recovery time for open kidney stone surgery is about six weeks. The urologist will go over the recovery process with the patient before the surgery.
Some kidney-stone patients must contend with a stent in the ureter during recovery. The stent is a tube in which the urine flows while the ureter heals. Wearing a stent can be an unpleasant experience. According to emedtv.com, patients may experience an increase in urination, an increased urge to urinate and back pain and discomfort while urinating with the stent. The urologist removes the stent on an outpatient basis a few days after surgery.
Jeff Barron is is a 12-year newspaper veteran. He wrote for the Ocean County Observer in Toms River, N.J., the Ocean County Reporter, and the Portsmouth (Ohio) Daily Times. Barron won an Ohio Associated Press award for investigative reporting in 2004. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from Shawnee State University in Ohio.