Kidney stones are a common urinary disorder, affecting nearly one in every ten Americans. They are also one of the most painful urinary conditions, and once you have had them, your risk of having kidney stones increases.

Washington University urologists offer comprehensive kidney stone care with a focus on minimally invasive techniques, even for the largest stones. Their choice of one of three surgical techniques depends on a number of factors, including the size and type of stone, medications you are taking, other medical problems and patient preference. Options include:

  • Shockwave lithotripsy (SWL), which works by focusing intense sound waves on the stone, causing it to shatter. Washington University urologists use the most advanced SWL technology in treating small- to medium-sized kidney stones.
  • Ureteroscopy, in which the urologist passes a ureteroscope (thin viewing instrument) through the urinary tract to reach the stone and uses a laser to break the stone into smaller pieces. This may be used when the patient has certain types of hard stones that don’t respond to SWL. Washington University urologists were among the earliest providers to use this technique.
  • Percutaneous nephrolithotomy, in which a urologist and a radiologist create a channel directly into the drainage system of the kidney through a small incision in the back and use specialized equipment to shatter the stones. This may be used with exceptionally large or complex kidney stones, or for a large number of small stones in one kidney. The Washington University Division of Urology is a major referral center for this procedure.

Washington University urologists are also experts in identifying the causes of kidney stones and how to prevent stones with alterations in diet, behavior or medical therapy.