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What Is Lithotripsy And How Does It Work?

Lithotripsy is a medical procedure that uses high-energy sound waves (shock waves) to break kidney stones. The treatment is safe and effective for most people with kidney stones.

During shock wave lithotripsy, you lie on a water-filled cushion, and high-energy shock waves guided by x-rays or ultrasound travel through your body until they hit the stone. The shock waves break the stones into tiny pieces.

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What Is Lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy is a procedure that uses shock waves to break up kidney stones and other types of stones in the body. When stones are broken down, they are smaller and easier to pass out of the body in urine.

Kidney and ureter stones can cause pain and block the flow of urine.

Shock waves travel through the skin and tissues to reach the stone and then break it up into tiny pieces. The remaining particles are then passed out of the body through urination over several weeks or months after the treatment.

To prepare for a shock wave lithotripsy, your healthcare provider will take an X-ray or ultrasound to help them target the stone and focus the energy beams on it. Your provider will then lie you on a soft, water-filled cushion while the machine delivers the shock waves to the stone.

Your healthcare provider will also give you medicine to sedate you and pain medication for any discomfort you feel. You will also need someone to drive you home from the hospital after the procedure, as you will likely be drowsy and nauseated for several hours following the treatment.

How Does Lithotripsy Work?

During a lithotripsy procedure, doctors use high-energy shock waves to break up kidney stones. The waves break the stones into smaller pieces that can be passed out of your body easily in urine.

Lithotripsy is a noninvasive surgery that may be used to treat certain types of kidney and other stone problems. Your doctor can recommend a treatment based on your specific condition and health history.

The main type of lithotripsy is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). Shock waves are transmitted through your body until they hit the kidney stone, causing the stone to crumble and pass.

Shock wave lithotripsy is safe for most people and works quickly, but the success rate can vary depending on your body type, the size and location of the kidney stone, and the type of stone you have.

Ureteroscopy with laser lithotripsy, or flexible ureteroscopy and laser lithotripsy, uses a special tool called a ureteroscope to break up and remove kidney stones that remain lodged in the ureter.

Patients who are on blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder should discontinue these medications before the procedure. This will help the body form a clot to stop bleeding.

If you have a pacemaker or any other type of implanted medical device, your doctor will need to know about it before the procedure. This can be an important safety precaution because some pacemakers are not compatible with shock wave lithotripsy.

Your doctor also may need to change the way you eat and drink after lithotripsy. It’s important to eat and drink plenty of fluids for several weeks after the procedure so your kidneys can clear any remaining stone fragments.

What Are the Risks of Lithotripsy?

A procedure called lithotripsy uses shock waves to break up kidney stones that are too large to pass through the urinary tract. This allows people with certain types of kidney stones to avoid surgery.

The success of lithotripsy depends on the size, location, type of stone, and body type. Overall, 70% to 90% of people who are good candidates for lithotripsy are stone-free (as seen on follow-up X-rays) three months after treatment.

Your healthcare provider will look for your kidney stone with fluoroscopy, a series of moving X-ray pictures, or ultrasound. Then the machine sends thousands of shock waves to the stone.

After the lithotripsy, you will need to drink a lot of water. This will help keep you hydrated and reduce the risk of infection. You may also need to take a pain reliever for a few days after the procedure. It’s best to ask your doctor about these medicines before you start taking them.

It’s important to talk with your doctor if you have any medical conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. These medical conditions may increase your chances of developing a kidney stone and should  discusse with your healthcare provider before you have lithotripsy.

Kidney stones made of hard substances, such as cystine or calcium, are more difficult to break up with lithotripsy. In addition, pregnancy and the use of certain medications can increase your risk of bleeding from a kidney stone.

You should not have lithotripsy if you are pregnant or if you have any type of infected kidney stone, because the X-rays and sound waves may harm your baby. If you have an infected kidney stone, it is a medical emergency and you should get immediate medical attention.

During the lithotripsy procedure, you’ll be put in a reclining position while a machine sends shock waves to your kidney stone. You’ll hear a popping sound and feel a tapping sensation on your side as the shock waves go to shatter the stone.

After the lithotripsy procedure, you’ll need to drink a lot of water and take pain medicine. You’ll also given antibiotics if you have an infection.

What Are the Benefits of Lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy is a non-invasive procedure that uses high-energy shock waves to break up kidney stones and parts of the ureter (the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder). The remaining small stone fragments then pass out of your body in your urine.

This treatment is the most common way to treat kidney stones. It is also the most effective. Patients who have had this treatment typically have fewer kidney stones and feel better after the procedure.

You should drink plenty of water after the treatment to help your kidneys flush out any remaining stone fragments.

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After the treatment, you may feel sore for a day or two. You can also notice slight bruising along the area where the shock waves hit your kidney stones. This pain usually goes away after a few days.

A doctor will tell you if you should take medicine to control your pain during or after the lithotripsy procedure. You should also let your doctor know if you have any allergies.

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