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What is lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy - 460x261

Lithotripsy is a noninvasive procedure that treats kidney stones that are too large to pass through the urinary tract. Lithotripsy uses ultrasound shock waves to break kidney stones into smaller pieces that can be eliminated in the urine. Lithotripsy is also used to treat stones of the digestive system, such as gallstones and pancreatic stones.

The most common form of lithotripsy is extracorporeal (outside the body) shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). A machine called a lithotripter generates the ultrasound shock waves that travel through your body until they reach the dense kidney stone. The stone shatters when the ultrasound waves hit it. 

Lithotripsy is the most common procedure for treating kidney stones. Other methods include endoscopic procedures and surgery. Discuss all of your treatment options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of lithotripsy

There are two types of ESWL methods:

  • Table ESWL involves lying on a water-filled cushion on top of a procedure table. The ultrasound shock waves travel through the cushion and into your body. This is the most common form of ESWL.
  • Water bath ESWL involves sitting in a water bath. The ultrasound shock waves travel through the water and into your body. 
Medical Reviewers: Daphne E. Hemmings, MD, MPH Last Review Date: Oct 8, 2012

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Medical References

Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy for Gallstones. Blue Cross of Idaho. https://www.bcidaho.com/providers/medical_policies/sur/mp_70135.asp. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy for Pancreatic Stones. Blue Cross of Idaho. https://www.bcidaho.com/providers/medical_policies/sur/mp_70189.asp. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Kidney Stone Treatment: Shock Wave Lithotripsy. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/kidneystones_ShockWave.cfm. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Kidney Stones and Ureteral Stones. American Urological Association Foundation. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=148. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Kidney Stones in Adults. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/stonesadults/#treatment. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Lithotripsy. Johns Hopkins Medicine. http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/healthlibrary/test_procedures/urology/lithotripsy_92,P07720/. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Lithotripsy. National Kidney Foundation. http://www.kidney.org/atoz/content/lithotripsy.cfm. Accessed August 15, 2012.
Thomas JL, Christensen JC, Kravitz SR, Mendicino RW, Schuberth JM, et al. The diagnosis and treatment of heel pain: a clinical practice guideline-revision 2010. J Foot Ankle Surg. 2010;49(3 Suppl):S1-19. http://www.acfas.org/uploadedFiles/Healthcare_Community/Education_and_Publications/Clinical_Practice_Guidelines/HeelPainCPG.pdf. Accessed August 15, 2012.
What I Need to Know About Kidney Stones. National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC). http://kidney.niddk.nih.gov/kudiseases/pubs/stones_ez/#doctor. Accessed August 15, 2012.

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