Common Risks and Complications Associated with the PCNL Procedure

The Percutaneous nephrolithotomy (PCNL) procedure is an invasive medical procedure used to treat large or complex kidney stones. This minimally-invasive procedure is usually performed under local or general anesthesia, and involves passing a small hollow tube, known as a nephroscope, through a small incision in the patient’s back and into the kidney. The procedure is relatively safe, but like any medical procedure, it carries some risks and potential complications. In this blog post, we will explore the common risks and complications associated with the PCNL procedure.

Unforeseen Stones and Stones in Unknown Locations

One of the most common risks associated with PCNL is the unexpected discovery of stones or stones in unknown locations. Although most stones can be detected with imaging studies prior to the procedure, some stones may lie in areas that are not visible on an x-ray or ultrasound. During the procedure, a surgeon may discover additional stones that were previously undetected. In some cases, these stones may be larger than expected and may require a more complex approach than originally planned. Additionally, stones may be located in areas that are difficult to access, making their removal more challenging.

Increased Risk of Infection

One of the most common risks associated with a PCNL procedure is the risk of infection. The urinary tract and kidney area is a breeding ground for bacteria and, if these bacteria are not properly controlled, an infection can quickly develop. To reduce the chances of an infection developing, it’s important for the patient to follow their doctor’s instructions regarding pre-operative preparation and post-operative care. Additionally, antibiotics may be prescribed to help fight off any potential infections.

Risk of Injury to Surrounding Organs

During a PCNL procedure, there is a risk of injury to surrounding organs that should not be underestimated. As the doctor is accessing the kidney, there is a possibility of injuring the intestines, liver, diaphragm, or other organs in the surrounding area. In some cases, the doctor may even puncture the pleura – the membrane that envelops the lungs – which can lead to pneumothorax, or the collapse of a lung. To reduce the risk of such complications, your doctor will use ultrasound or X-rays to ensure that the instruments are properly placed.


PCNL is a minimally invasive procedure with few risks. However, given that it is a major procedure, there are potential risks and complications that can arise. It is important to be aware of the potential risks and complications and to be prepared to address them. Patients should consult with their physician to ensure they understand all of the risks and how to reduce and manage them.

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