Lithotripsy: Purposes and Procedures

Lithotripsy: Purposes and Procedures


Kidney stones are a real nuisance. And although Joe Cosgrove has previously asserted in other articles that there are several ways to treat and get rid of kidney stones; however, sometimes, the stone may require additional treatment. That depends, of course, on your doctor who may recommend a procedure called Lithotripsy.

For medium sized stones in your kidney or ureter, a physician or a nephrologist may lean towards recommending a shockwave lithotripsy (SWL). Normally, this technique normally takes up to one hour and typically can be performed as an ambulatory or outpatient procedure. In fact, the vast majority of individuals who underwent a lithotripsy were able to resume their normal and daily activities three days after the procedure.

How is it performed

Once you start to experience the effects of the anesthesia, the physician performing the lithotripsy uses locates the kidney stone using either an ultrasound machine or x-rays and then irradiates the stone with a shock wave from outside the patient’s body. The idea behind this procedure is to separate the kidney stone into smaller particles so that they can pass through the urinary tract easily over the next few days. However, and as mentioned in other articles, the passage of small parts and fragments through the urinary tract can often cause pain, which is why your doctor may also recommend taking pain analgesics. Sometimes, when large pieces remain after the technique has been performed, your physician may lean towards suggesting an additional procedure. The degree to which SWL will be successful highly depends on the size of the stone, this is particularly useful for small pieces.

Recommendations prior to the surgery

Although SWL is rather a simple procedure, it still demands a certain amount of special attention. That being said, the following pieces of advice should be followed before the surgery:

  • Tell your primary physician about any prescription medicine, vitamin or supplement you have recently taken.
  • Do not forget to mention whether you suffer from a particular allergy and what type of medicine you use to treat it.
  • Tell your doctor if you are or may be pregnant
  • In case you suffer from any blood clotting issues or any bleeding disorder, make sure to make your doctor aware of it.

And no matter how simple SWL may be, there are also pre-operative directions you must follow. You may need to:

  • Make sure to open a space in your agenda for an electrocardiogram and other tests such as blood and urine.
  • Assess with your physician what drugs may lead to unusual bleeding.
  • Take prescribed antibiotics in order to help prevent any degree of infection
  • The day of the procedure you will certainly be required to take whatever medicine you may be taking with as much as a little zip of water early in the morning
  • Remember to reduce both food and liquid ingestion the night before the procedure unless authorized by your primary physician.

It is also recommendable to have someone come with you, for you will not be able to drive home by yourself after the procedure. Most hospitals and clinics will not allow you to simply take a taxi afterwards.

After the procedure

After having mentioned the previous recommendations, and in line of providing accurate information about a shock wave lithotripsy, it is also important to bear in mind the following possible additional second-round effects:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Discomfort and mild to severe pain within the first 36 hours near the kidney region, lower back and similar.
  • Presence of blood in the urine. After SWL changes in urine color may occur. Pay attention to any change in its nature, especially if you happen to see an increase in the bleeding.
Image courtesy of Ana Bierzanska at

In general, SWL is used on individuals who have kidney stones that are causing some degree of discomfort and pain—or in worst cases blocking the urine flow. Stones between 0.16 in and 0.8 in are the ones most likely to be treated this way. Larger stones, however, may require another procedure to remove them. It is important to also remember that  SWL is not really effective at treating cystine kidney stones as they do not break up that easily. SWL is a safe ambulatory procedure that can be performed in both children and adult patients, and normally no complications whatsoever are experienced afterwards; however, in order to reduce the chances of suffering any further discomfort follow the aforementioned tips and consult with your physician additional questions.

* Featured Image courtesy of dfaulder at


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