What's it like: To get lithotripsy

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy uses shock waves to break a kidney stone into smaller passable pieces.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: May 19, 2013
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Why get lithotripsy?

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a procedure used to treat some kidney stones. During the procedure, a lithotripter machine uses shock waves to break a kidney stone into smaller passable pieces. Typically, people will have lithotripsy performed when the stone is in the upper third of the urinary tract and a size that can be seen by fluoroscopy, similar to an X-ray “movie.” If your doctor can see the stone through fluoroscopy, then it can generally be treated through lithotripsy.

Not all kidney stones can be treated effectively using lithotripsy. You will need to talk with your doctor about what is appropriate for your case.

What happens during the procedure?

The shock waves generate enough power and force that it hurts. Because of this, you'll generally be placed under some form of anesthesia and fall asleep.

This is also to ensure that you don't move. It's important that you don't move because the shock waves are focused on your kidney stone. Medical professionals will use X-ray to refine the focal point of where they're targeting the shock waves.

It's up to the patient to pass the stone once it's broken. If your anatomy is correct and you drink enough water, hopefully the passage occurs without any problem. Some patients find that, after lithotripsy, it doesn't hurt as much to pass the stone.

Lithotripsy machines can send up to 2,500 shock waves to the kidney. It's not generally recommended to go higher, for risk of damaging the kidney. If the stone is in the kidney, the procedure works in the majority of patients. In this scenario, you'll discharge the fragments in about a month. If the stone is the ureter, the tube leading from the kidney to the bladder, it will be discharged about 80 percent of the time.

Does it hurt?


by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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