Treating Kidney Stones: Lithotripsy Procedure
There are a number of procedures now available to treat kidney stones.
Depending on the type, size and severity of the stones you have will determine
just what kind of treatment works best for you. This page discusses how
extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) works, where it has the highest
success rate, and warnings about certain complications associated with this
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How Lithotripsy Works
There are several types of lithotripsy procedures. All of these options are
often done on an outpatient basis with only some requiring the use of
anesthesia. Besides its success rate as a relatively simple procedure, the other
benefit of lithotripsy is that the recovery time is only a few days.
Here’s how it works. The person receiving the treatment either lies down in a
water bath or on a cushion. The doctor employs an x-ray or ultrasound machine to
locate the stone. The ultrasound machine sends out numerous high-energy
shockwaves which pinpoint and shatter the kidney stones into a fine powder that
can be passed out of the body through the urine with no pain or discomfort.
Complications with the Lithotripsy Procedure
Like any kind of medical treatment, lithotripsy does have its complications.
It is important to consider all of these before making a decision on whether the
lithotripsy procedure is right for you.
The most frequent complication is blood in the urine. This can occur for a few
days after the treatment during the recovery period. However, you can reduce the
chances of this happening by avoiding aspirin and other NSAIDs for up to 7-10
days after the treatment.
Sometimes, the kidney stone fragments that are left after lithotripsy make
contact with the urinary tract walls, causing a cramping pain as they are passed
out of the body. This complication will subside as soon as the kidney stone has
been completely eliminated. However, if the stones are not completely removed
after lithotripsy, new stones could develop more quickly than someone who had
not been treated with this procedure.
If it takes more time to eliminate kidney stones, doctors may insert a small
tube into the ureter. While this does not speed up the process, it does help
ease passage of stone fragments. In other cases, more lithotripsy treatments may
be needed to completely shatter the stone into small enough pieces to eliminate
all the debris. Other people who have cysts or kidney abnormalities may
experience additional complications that further lower the success rate of
Lithotripsy and Young Patients
There is still uncertainty about the safety or long-term complications
involved with using the lithotripsy procedure on children. While it appears to
be a safe treatment for younger patients, some researchers discovered short-term
injury to the kidney tubules after lithotripsy. The number of ultrasound shocks
should be minimized when conducting lithotripsy on children with longer periods
of time between treatments if more than one session is required to destroy the
When Lithotripsy Works Best
The lithotripsy procedure has the highest kidney stone recovery rate -
approximately a 90% cure - on kidney stones less than half of an inch that do
not pass on their own and that are located in the upper portion of the ureter or
the pelvic area of the kidney. This scenario for success most closely describes
Based on the size and type of kidney stone,
lithotripsy prevents 65%-75% of people from ever having to deal with this
painful ailment again. For example, uric acid kidney stones and some calcium
stones can be treated successfully. There are certain types of calcium stones
that do not break up easily and leave fragments behind that can lead to
additional stones in the future. In these cases, complete recovery after the
lithotripsy procedure is only about 40%. While smaller cystine stones are easy
to treat, the large ones present a challenge. Staghorn kidney stones only result
in a success rate of less than 50% with 60% of these cases needing re-treatment.
People who have only had one stone also have a better chance of success using
this treatment. Other situations that seem to be aided by lithotripsy are people
who have misshapen kidneys. Those who have health conditions that put them at
risk for surgery, including diabetes, breathing problems, hypertension and heart
disease, have a better chance using lithotripsy because it does not involve
Unfortunately, the lithotripsy procedure does not help everyone. There are
also occurrences when this procedure has never been successful. Lithotripsy has
been proven not to work for any type of kidney stone that is larger than one
inch in diameter. Also, if any part of the stone remains in the urinary tract
after the lithotripsy procedure, the possibility remains that new stones could
Resuming Sexual Activity
After having lithotripsy, sexual activity can resume once certain
specifications are met. Eating and fluid intake must return to normal. Pain
medication is no longer necessary. Lastly, no visible blood appears in the
urine. These factors must be fulfilled to ensure that the person does not
experience pain or leave themselves open for a possible infection.
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