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What is lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy is a procedure to treat kidney stones by using an instrument, probe or machine to break up the stones into tiny pieces so they may pass naturally.

When is a lithotripsy performed?

Lithotripsy is an effective means of treating kidney stones depending on the size of the stones, their location and your medical condition. This procedure is most successful for stones located in the upper ureter or kidney. A different procedure may be recommended if you have very large stones. 

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) breaks up kidney stones with highly focused impulses projected from outside the body. This procedure works on stones anywhere in the urinary system. The stones are usually broken up enough to pass naturally, although multiple treatments may be necessary. ESWL is not recommended for pregnant women, stones over one inch in diameter or struvite stones.

What different forms of lithotripsy may be performed?

Laser lithotripsy

Ultrasonic lithotripsy breaks up the kidney stones using high-frequency sound waves sent through an electronic probe into the ureter. Afterward you may pass the fragments or they may be removed surgically.

Electrohydraulic lithotripsy (EHL) breaks up smaller kidney stones using shock waves generated by electricity. EHL can be used on stones anywhere in the urinary system. This procedure does require general anesthesia. Afterward you may pass the fragments or they may be removed surgically.

What can I expect during treatment?

Your doctor will give you a sedative and general or regional anesthesia for the procedure. Lithotripsy takes over an hour and may require multiple treatments.