What Is Extracorporeal Shock Wave Treatment?

lithotripsyLithotripsy has become a familiar word to those who suffer from kidney stones. It's a form of kidney stone treatment that incorporates extracorporeal shock waves so that invasive surgery isn't needed. The lithotripsy procedure uses these high energy waves to break kidney stones apart so they can be passed more easily during urination. Some people refer to it as "blasting kidney stones."

There are two ways to use lithotripsy.

In the more common lithotripsy method, the patient sits on a soft cushion-like membrane which the shock waves pass through. The procedure usually lasts about three quarters of an hour or slightly more. During that time, between one and two thousand shock waves will break up the stones. By the time the procedure ends, the stones are usually as fine as grains of sand.

The other lithotripsy method requires the patient to sit in a tub of lukewarm water. Medical personnel specifically target the stones with x-rays or ultrasound waves. This also breaks the stones down in a way similar to the first method.

The patient usually undergoes the procedure under some degree of anesthesia. It may be local, regional, or general. But lithotripsy doesn't require invasive kidney surgery or a lengthy recovery. It may involve a hospital stay of only a day or two, although in some cases it can be done on an outpatient basis. It's also much less costly.

One of the big benefits of lithotripsy is a quick return to normal activities. Many lithotripsy patients are "back to full speed" in just a few days. There may be some residual discomfort for several weeks as the stone fragments pass out of the body during urination, but this discomfort can usually be relieved by oral medications.

Typically, urine will be tinged with blood for a while. This is not unusual and shouldn't be a cause for concern unless it continues for more than a few days. If so, talk to your doctor.

You don't need a special diet after lithotripsy, although your doctor will tell you to make sure you drink a lot of water.

Lithotripsy risks and complications


Unfortunately, there are some types of kidney stones that lithotripsy won't break up efficiently. So it's not appropriate for all kidney stone patients. Some are too big, or sometimes there are too many. Larger fragments sometimes remain in the body after the procedure. In such cases, additional treatments become necessary.

For lithotripsy to work, it's also necessary that your stones can be visible on an x-ray monitor. Your doctor must be able to see exactly where they are. If the stones are difficult for some reason (like an anatomical abnormality), lithotripsy might not be the best treatment.

When lithotripsy is appropriate for the patient, the success rate is usually between 70 and 90 percent, according to the National Kidney Foundation.

Also see kidney stone removal surgery.

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