Lithotripsy, also known as extracorporeal shock wave treatment or ESWL, is a procedure that sends sound waves through your body to break up stones in your kidney or other organs, such as the gallbladder or bladder. It’s a noninvasive treatment, meaning there’s no surgery involved and the recovery is faster.

ESWL works best with small stones, usually between 3/16 and 3/4 of an inch, or about the length of a grape.

What happens during lithotripsy?

You’ll lie on a water-filled cushion while your doctor uses X-rays or ultrasound tests to find the stone. Then high-energy sound waves pass through your body, targeting the stone and breaking it into smaller pieces. The goal is to make those pieces small enough to pass through your urinary tract and out of your body.

You’ll likely get sedatives or local anesthesia to help you stay still and comfortable during the procedure, which lasts about an hour.

What happens after lithotripsy?

You’ll likely go home. There’s usually no need to stay in the hospital overnight.

During the days (or weeks) following ESWL, stone fragments will make their way out of your body as you urinate and may cause some pain.

Unfortunately, if you have had kidney stones once, there is chance they will form again in your system. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to prevent future problems, such making changes to your diet and drinking plenty of water each day.  

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