Lithotripsy is a medical procedure that uses shock waves to break up stones in the kidney, bladder, or ureter (tube that carries urine from your kidneys to your bladder). After the procedure, the tiny pieces of stones pass out of your body in your urine.
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is the most common type of lithotripsy. "Extracorporeal" means outside the body.
You will wear a medical gown and lie on an exam table on top of a soft, water-filled cushion. You will be given a mild sedative or pain medicine before the procedure starts. You will also be given antibiotics before the procedure starts to prevent infection.
High-energy shock waves, also called sound waves, will pass through your body until they hit the kidney stones. You may feel a tapping sensation when this starts. The waves break the stones into tiny pieces. Often, you will be given general anesthesia for the procedure. You will be asleep and pain-free.
The lithotripsy procedure should take about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
A tube may be placed through your bladder or back into your kidney. This tube will drain urine from your kidney until all the small pieces of stone pass out of your body. The tube may be put in place before or after your lithotripsy treatment.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Scott Miller, MD, Urologist in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.