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Lithotripsy – Your Questions Answered



What is lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy – medically referred to as Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL) is a medical procedure used to treat kidney or ureteric stones.

How does lithotripsy work?

During lithotripsy, a specially designed machine is used to generate a shock wave through the use of sound energy. Using an acoustic lens, the energy can be magnified and targeted specifically at the desired area of treatment – the kidney stone. By focusing the sound energy in this manner, a shock wave can be produced at a point on the stone with enough power to shatter the kidney stone. Generally in this form of treatment, a specialist will admit numerous, small shock waves to allow the stone to be fragmented without causing excessive discomfort to the patient.

How is lithotripsy carried out?

After finding your kidney stones, your doctor may suggest lithotripsy as a possible form of treatment to eradicate you of your kidney or ureteric stones. Following this suggestion, an appointment can be made allowing you to attend a lithotripsy unit and discuss your treatment options. After attending your appointment at the lithotripsy unit, you will be asked to change into a medical gown and pain killers will be administered. Once you are changed into your medical gown, a radiographer – also known as an X-ray technician – will use an ultrasound or X-ray scanner to locate your stone. After locating the kidney stone, your lithotripsy treatment will begin and you will hear a series of loud, regular clicks as the shock wave energy is produced. The treatment starts at a low power initially and may be gradually increased.

How long does the treatment take?

In most cases, a lithotripsy session will take about an hour. Following this session, a patient is usually discharged; however, it is advised that you have someone with for48 hours following the procedure in the event that you may feel unwell. Other patients are required to stay overnight for monitoring but this will depend on their clinical circumstances.

How many treatments are needed?

Unfortunately, there is no set number of treatments required as this can vary depending upon the size and site of the stone. In order to monitor the progression of your treatment and fragmentation of the stone, an X-ray will usually be taken prior to each treatment session.

Who can have lithotripsy?

Patients taking warfarin are advised not to undergo a lithotripsy procedure as they have an increased risk of bleeding after such treatment. Furthermore, some patients may be refused the treatment as the positioning of their stones may not be amenable to treatment due to its location within the kidney or urinary tract. This will be discussed with you by your specialist prior to any treatment.