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Shock Wave Lithotripsy

Effective nonsurgical kidney stone treatment


Leave no stone unbroken.
Annually, over half a million people go to the ER with kidney stone issues. And while some stones pass on their own, others require surgical intervention. The most common treatment, extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, uses shock waves to shatter the painful stones into small pieces so they can be more easily passed by patients.

What is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy?
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a common non-surgical technique for treating stones in the kidneys and ureters, which run from the kidneys to the bladder. Instead of surgical intervention, your kidneys are subjected to high-energy shock waves which pass through the body, breaking the kidney stones in the process. Lithotripsy can break stones into pieces as small as a single grain of sand, allowing the patient to more easily pass the pieces through their urine.

What does the treatment involve?
With lithotripsy, patients are generally subjected to one of two methods: in one, patients sit in a tub of lukewarm water for the procedure. Then, your care provider will pinpoint the location of the stones utilizing ultrasound or x-ray technology, in order to most effectively pulverize the calcifications. The second, more common method, requires the patient to sit or lie on top of a water-filled cushion through which the shock waves will pass. From start to finish, the procedure usually takes 45 minutes to an hour.

What are the advantages of this treatment?
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a very effective option for treatment in eligible patients, since their kidney stones can be alleviated without surgery. This reduces complications, time in the hospital, costs and recovery time.

Can all kidney stone patients have lithotripsy?
No, not all patients can be treated with lithotripsy. Your care provider will assess your eligibility based on the size, number, location and composition of the stones. Patients who struggle with obesity or are simply large-framed may not be able to use the water bath method, but most patients can be treated with the cushion option. If you have any anatomical abnormalities that prevent the stones from being clearly viewed on the X-ray monitor, this may cause your care provider to recommend a different type of treatment.

How successful is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy?
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy can be highly effective, with about 70 to 90 percent of eligible patients being stone-free within three months of treatment.

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