Lithotripsy is a medical procedure that uses sound waves, also called shock waves, to break up stones in the kidney, bladder, or ureter. The ureter is the tube that carries urine from the kidneys to the bladder. After the lithotripsy treatment, the tiny pieces of broken up stones can pass out of the body in urine. This is a non-invasive procedure, meaning no cuts or incisions are made. For many patients with kidney stones, lithotripsy can be a great treatment option.
To get ready for lithotripsy, you’ll change into a hospital gown and lie down on an exam table that has a soft water-filled cushion. This cushion allows the sound waves to pass through the body effectively. You may be given medication to help you relax or relieve any pain before the procedure starts. Antibiotics may also be prescribed to prevent infection.
For the actual treatment, some patients are given general anesthesia so they are fully asleep and pain-free. Others may have local numbing but remain awake. The doctor will position the lithotripsy machine so it targets the kidney stones. High-energy sound waves will pass through the body until they reach the stones. Patients often describe feeling a tapping sensation when this happens. The waves break down the stones into very tiny pieces that can later pass out in urine after the procedure.
A lithotripsy session typically takes around 45 minutes to 1 hour to complete. Before or after the main treatment, a small tube may be inserted through the bladder or kidney to help drain urine and any broken up stone fragments.
Lithotripsy often works well for stones causing pain, bleeding, urinary tract infections, or damage to the kidneys. However, some harder stones may not be able to be broken up by sound waves alone. For those cases, other procedures like surgery may be required.
Lithotripsy is considered very safe in most cases. However, your doctor can discuss any possible complications or side effects, such as:
The main benefits of lithotripsy are that it is non-invasive, it can break down stones into passable fragments, and it avoids the need for traditional surgery in many cases. For many kidney stone sufferers, this procedure can provide lasting relief.