Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) uses shock waves to break a kidney stone into small pieces that can more easily travel through the urinary tract and pass from the body.
See a picture of ESWL.
ESWL is usually an outpatient procedure. You go home after the treatment and do not have to spend a night in the hospital.
After ESWL, stone fragments usually pass in the urine for a few days and cause mild pain. If you have a larger stone, you may need more ESWL or other treatments.
ESWL may be used on a person who has a kidney stone that is causing pain or blocking the urine flow. Stones that are between 4 mm (0.16 in.) and 2 cm (0.8 in.) in diameter are most likely to be treated with ESWL.
ESWL may work best for kidney stones in the kidney or in the part of the ureter close to the kidney. Your surgeon may try to push the stone back into the kidney with a small instrument (ureteroscope) and then use ESWL.
ESWL is usually not used if you:
ESWL works for most people who have small kidney stones—either in the kidney or in the ureter.
Complications of ESWL include:
ESWL does not replace the need for the preventive treatment of kidney stones, such as drinking enough fluids so that you don't get dehydrated.
ESWL does not successfully treat cystine kidney stones. These stones do not break up easily.
ESWL is a safe procedure and may be used on children and on individuals with only one working kidney. ESWL should not be used if you have a pacemaker unless a cardiologist has determined it is safe.
Last Revised: May 2, 2013
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