Evidence of kidney stones has been found in ancient Egyptian mummies. Even today, the accumulation of mineral deposits that stick together in urine results in about 3 million visits to urologists and other doctors in the United States each year.
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If stones are in the tube that connects the kidneys and bladder (ureter) or close to the bladder, they are often removed with a ureteroscopy. The procedure is performed with a small, flexible scope (ureteroscope) with a light source and a lens attached to it. During the outpatient procedure, a urologist uses a tiny wire basket inserted through the scope to collect and remove the stones. The stones may need to be broken apart with other procedures first.
With a laser lithotripsy, a laser is used to break apart kidney stones that are irregularly shaped or too large to pass into smaller pieces. A stent may be placed in one of the ureters to create a wider passageway. A ureteroscopy might be done after laser treatment to remove most of the smaller pieces with a wire basket. The remaining stones normally pass within 24 hours. Some patients may notice burning sensations when urinating for a few days after this procedure. However, drinking more water may help minimize this problem.
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is one of the most common ways to treat kidney stones. The procedure involves the use of high-energy sound waves passed through the skin to the area where the stones are located. The waves break apart the mineral deposits so they can pass through the urinary tract. Image techniques such as ultrasound or X-rays are often used to pinpoint the exact location of the stones. A stent is sometimes inserted to make it easier for stones to pass. Multiple ESWL applications may be necessary for larger stones or ones that don't pass through following the initial treatment.
If kidney stones can't be broken apart with ESWL, percutaneous surgery (percutaneous nephrolithotomy) may be performed. Small incisions are made in the back to reach the kidneys. A special instrument called a nephroscope is used to remove the stones. An energy probe may be used to break up larger stones into small stones to make removal easier. An advantage for patients is that the most or all of the kidney stone fragments can be directly removed without having to rely solely on natural passage through the urinary tract.
Having a family history of kidney stones, chronic urinary tract infections, and conditions such as gout and some rare hereditary diseases are among the factors that can increase you risk of experiencing problems with mineral deposits in your kidneys or urinary system. If you are susceptible to developing kidney stones, drink enough water throughout your day to allow for regular urine passage. There's also research suggesting dairy products may help prevent stones from forming, although highly acid foods and beverages should be avoided.
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