Breaking Down Kidney Stones: How Medical Lasers and Devices Can Offer Relief

Kidney stones are mineral and salt deposits that form within the kidneys. This condition can cause minor to significant pain and disrupt patients’ lives.

Fortunately, medical science has made significant leaps in kidney stone treatment, including ablation via medical lasers. This technique involves breaking down or removing stones to enable them to pass through the urinary tract.

Medical lasers play a crucial role in kidney stone ablation. Specific benefits of this approach include increased precision, reduced invasiveness, quicker recovery times, high success rates, and relief from pain and discomfort.

Here is an overview of kidney stones and how medical lasers benefit urologists and their patients.

Understanding kidney stones and their formation

Kidney stones, also known as renal calculi, are solid masses that often vary in size and composition. They typically contain calcium, oxalate, uric acid, or other minerals. These stones form when substances in the urine become concentrated and crystallize, eventually becoming a solid mass.

When kidney stones obstruct the urinary tract, they can cause intense discomfort, urinary difficulties, and other complications. Effective treatments are essential to help alleviate the pain associated with these symptoms.

Traditional kidney stone removal

Before the advent of modern techniques such as medical lasers and devices, surgeons used traditional methods for kidney stone removal.

Open surgery was one of the most common approaches, where an incision was made in the patient’s back or side, providing the surgeon with direct access to the kidney or ureter. While effective, open surgery was associated with longer hospital stays, extended recovery periods, and an increased risk of complications. Additionally, it often resulted in more significant pain and scarring for patients.

Similarly, in some cases, older methods involved inserting rigid instruments through the urinary tract to extract or break down stones manually. These approaches were less precise than today’s laser lithotripsy or ureteroscopy and could cause discomfort and trauma to the urinary tract.

Thankfully, the evolution of medical technology and the development of minimally invasive procedures have largely replaced traditional kidney stone removal methods. These advancements have improved patient outcomes and reduced the physical and emotional toll of kidney stone treatments.

Ablation methods

Today, laser ablation is pivotal in treating kidney stones, and medical lasers and devices are at the forefront of these methods. Here are five of the most commonly employed techniques.

1. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL)

ESWL utilizes shock waves generated outside the body to fragment kidney stones into smaller, more manageable pieces. During this procedure, the patient typically lies on a water-filled cushion, and a lithotripter delivers targeted shock waves to the stone.

These shock waves cause the stone to break into smaller fragments, allowing them to pass through the urinary tract more efficiently. ESWL is non-invasive and does not require surgery, making it an attractive option for many patients.

2. Ureteroscopy

This minimally invasive procedure involves the insertion of a thin, flexible tube called a ureteroscope into the urinary tract. The ureteroscope can reach the kidney or bladder to access the stone. Once in place, medical lasers or other tools break up or extract the stones. Ureteroscopy allows for precise targeting of kidney stones and is highly effective in treating stones in the ureter or kidney.

3. Laser lithotripsy

Among the most precise techniques, laser lithotripsy uses medical lasers, typically holmium or thulium lasers, to precisely target and fragment kidney stones into smaller pieces. This method is highly effective and minimally invasive. The laser’s energy disintegrates the stone without harming surrounding tissues, ensuring an efficient and successful procedure.

4. Mechanical lithotripsy

Mechanical lithotripsy is another valuable technique to remove kidney stones, particularly when stones are large or stubborn. This method involves using specialized tools and instruments that physically crush or break the stones into smaller fragments, making them easier to pass through the urinary tract.

One such tool is a basket-like device that can grasp and crush stones, allowing for their removal through a ureteroscope. Mechanical lithotripsy is often combined with ureteroscopy to ensure thorough stone fragmentation and extraction. Although mechanical lithotripsy may result in longer surgery durations than laser lithotripsy, it remains a highly effective option for managing challenging kidney stones.

5. Ultrasonic lithotripsy

Ultrasonic lithotripsy employs high-frequency sound waves to disintegrate kidney stones. The surgeon inserts a specialized probe into the urinary tract during the procedure. The probe tip generates ultrasonic waves, breaking the stones into tiny fragments.

These fragments flush out of the body through natural urine flow. Ultrasonic lithotripsy is particularly useful for stones that are hard or resistant to other forms of treatment. Its precision and ability to target stones of varying compositions make it a versatile option in the urologist’s toolkit.

Advantages of laser ablation for kidney stone removal

Medical lasers and devices in kidney stone ablation offer several key advantages, contributing to their popularity and success in treating this condition.


Medical lasers enable healthcare professionals to target and fragment kidney stones with remarkable accuracy. The focused energy enables the selective breakdown of the stone, leaving surrounding healthy tissue unharmed. This precision minimizes the risk of complications and ensures effective stone removal.

Non-invasive or minimally invasive

Techniques like ESWL and laser lithotripsy are often non-invasive or minimally invasive. These approaches reduce the need for more significant surgeries, which can be associated with higher risks, longer recovery times, and additional patient discomfort.

Non-invasive procedures are typically performed on an outpatient basis, allowing patients to return home the same day.

Reduced recovery time

One of the primary benefits of minimally invasive procedures using medical lasers is the shorter recovery duration compared to traditional open surgery. Patients undergoing laser lithotripsy or ureteroscopy can often return to their daily activities within a few days to a week, depending on the stone’s size and complexity. This means patients can regain their quality of life faster, which is especially crucial for those suffering from severe pain and discomfort.

High success rates

When performed by skilled healthcare professionals, these techniques have high success rates in breaking down and removing kidney stones. The combination of precision and advanced technology ensures that the stone is effectively treated and removed from the urinary tract. The proven success rate of ablation procedures provides patients peace of mind and reassurance.

Reduced pain and discomfort

Finally, one of the most significant advantages of medical laser and device-assisted kidney stone ablation is the relief it provides from the pain and discomfort associated with stone obstruction. Kidney stone pain can be excruciating and debilitating, often necessitating urgent intervention.

By effectively treating kidney stones, medical lasers, and related devices alleviate this pain, allowing patients to resume their daily lives without the constant agony associated with stone-related symptoms.

Laser ablation: the preferred method for resolving kidney stones

Kidney stone ablation has revolutionized the treatment of this painful condition. Its precision, reduced invasiveness, quicker recovery times, high success rates, and ability to relieve pain and discomfort make ablation an invaluable technique for healthcare professionals.

Medical lasers and devices from world-class manufacturers

IML manufacturing partners like DEKA offer innovative, in-demand medical lasers and devices for medical specialties such as urology. Contact IML to learn more about our state-of-the-art devices.

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