Laser lithotripsy is a procedure providers use to break up and remove stones in your kidney, bladder, ureter or urethra. It’s usually done by putting the laser through a scope in your urinary tract. Afterwards, it’s common to have blood in your pee and discomfort from a stent. Laser lithotripsy is usually more effective than shockwave lithotripsy.
Laser lithotripsy is a procedure that uses a laser to break up stones in your urinary tract. This includes your bladder, kidneys, ureters (tubes that carry pee from your kidneys to your bladder) and urethra (the tube that your pee goes through to leave your body).
Laser lithotripsy is often performed by a urologist during a ureteroscopy. They’ll insert a flexible laser fiber through a scope (a long tube with a camera on it) into your urinary tract to break up stones. They’ll remove the stone fragments with a small basket or other instruments. Providers don’t need to make any incisions (cuts in your skin) to perform this type of surgery.
Sometimes, lasers are also used to break up stones that a provider removes during a percutaneous nephrolithotomy, a procedure that remove kidney stones through an incision in your back.
Laser lithotripsy is usually done during a minimally invasive procedure. It’s not considered major surgery.
The difference between laser and shock wave lithotripsy is how your provider breaks up stones. Laser lithotripsy breaks stones up more directly, from inside of your body, with a laser. Shock wave lithotripsy breaks them up from outside of your body, with shock waves.
Laser lithotripsy is more effective at breaking up stones that shock wave lithotripsy can’t (due to size, location or hardness of the stone). But since laser lithotripsy requires a surgical device that goes inside your body, it carries some risks that shock wave lithotripsy doesn’t.
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Your provider will give you instructions on how to prepare for laser lithotripsy. Following their directions closely can reduce your risk of complications. Before laser lithotripsy, your provider may ask you to:
Make sure you tell your provider about all the medications you take, including over-the-counter (OTC) and herbal supplements.
Sometimes during a scheduled lithotripsy, a provider has to place a stent to widen your ureter and reschedule the procedure for two to three weeks later.
During a laser lithotripsy performed with ureteroscopy, a provider will:
Laser lithotripsy usually takes one to two hours.
Since you’ll be under anesthesia, you shouldn’t feel pain during the procedure. You may have some pain or discomfort after the procedure.
After laser lithotripsy, providers will monitor you until it’s safe for you to go home. You’ll need someone to drive you. Your provider may prescribe pain medication, medications for stent discomfort and a few days of antibiotics.
Advantages of laser lithotripsy over shock wave therapy include:
After laser lithotripsy, it’s common to experience:
Complications of laser lithotripsy include:
Most people are able to return to their usual activities around a week after laser lithotripsy. If you have a stent, some physical activities may cause discomfort or blood in your pee. Ask your provider what to expect.
The best way to take care of yourself is to drink plenty of fluids. Follow any recommendations from your provider about when you can return to normal activities, how to take your medications and when to contact them.
Contact your healthcare provider if you have any concerning symptoms. These include:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Despite their small size, stones in your urinary tract can be extremely painful. Laser lithotripsy is an effective way to break up stones so you can get relief. Most of the time, laser lithotripsy is part of an outpatient procedure that takes just a few hours. Ask your provider about any concerns you have before or after the procedure.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/20/2023.
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