Lithotripsy: Procedure, Risks & Treatment



This is a surgical procedure that is most helpful in removing the hardened masses (stones) that sometimes form, such as kidney stones, bezoars or gallstones by breaking them into smaller pieces. This method of stone removal from the body is mostly performed with the use of shock-waves in order to break the larger stone-pieces into smaller pieces so as to facilitate their removal from the body through the passage from bodily fluids mostly. The extra-corporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is the most widely-used stone removal method today.

Need for Lithotripsy

A lithotripsy procedure may be useful for a person suffering from a kidney stone that causes intense pain and blocks the flow of the urine. Stones that are medium-sized (from 4-20 mm) are more likely to be treated successfully with an ESWL treatment method. This procedure is most effective in removing the stones that are located inside the kidney or are in a part if the ureter close to the kidney, in which case the surgeon pushes the external stone back inside the kidney using a ureteroscope in order to destroy it using ESWL.

Lithotripsy procedure

Extra-corporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a form of treatment method that is most useful in removing medium-sized stones that occur in the body such as the kidney stones, gallstones or bezoars with the use of high-intensity shock-waves to break down the large-stones into smaller granules that can then be passed out from the body with the urine. This is a non-invasive method of treatment and requires no form of anesthesia as there is any need for an incision. The doctor will require you to lie down on a water-filled cushion and use x-ray imaging (or ultrasound) techniques to locate the stone precisely. The next step involves aiming high-energy sound waves at the stone from outside the body using a specialized device. This allows the doctor to destruct the stone into smaller pieces without causing any additional damage to the healthy organs or tissues in the region. These smaller pieces can easily pass out from the body with normal urinary functions. This is around an hour-long procedure and is performed as an outpatient procedure without the need for a prolonged hospital stay. In case you have a larger-sized stone the doctor will likely use a stent (short, small tube of plastic mesh) on order to hold the ureter open. This stent is helpful in allowing the small stone to pass through the ureter without getting clogged. The extra-corporeal shock-wave lithotripsy (ESWL) procedure is an ideal form of treatment for removing medium-sized stones from the body using an efficient and convenient non-invasive surgical method.

Risks of Lithotripsy

Complications of an ESWL may include:
  • Pain caused by passing stone fragments through the ureter
  • Ureter may get blocked by accumulation of stone fragments meant to pass out from the body through the urine
  • UTI (urinary tract infection)
  • Bleeding outside the kidney
The doctor/surgeon will take every possible precautionary measure to ensure that the risk of these complications is avoided altogether itself.  
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