Lithotripsy is a medical procedure that uses shock waves or laser to break up stones in the kidney, ureter, gallbladder, or liver. Kidney stones develop when minerals and other materials in the urine crystallize in the kidneys forming solid stones, which comprise small, sharp-pointed crystals or heavier stones that look like polished rocks. Smaller ones usually exit the body naturally during urination.

But the body can’t eliminate larger stones through urination, which can lead to kidney damage. A person suffering from kidney stones may have bleeding, cramps, or urinary tract infections. Your doctor may suggest lithotripsy when kidney stones starts to cause these kinds of issues.

Also Read: Natural Ways To Get Rid Of Kidney Stones

How Does Lithotripsy Work?

This procedure uses sound waves to break down large kidney stones into smaller ones. These sound waves are known as high-energy shock waves and the most common type of lithotripsy is extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL).

Extracorporeal indicates “outside the body” and it refers to the source of the shock waves. In this procedure, a special machine called a lithotripter produces shock waves that travel into the body and break down the stones.

ESWL has now steadily replaced surgery as the treatment mode for larger kidney stones. It is a non-invasive procedure and is generally safer and easier to recover post-procedure. Lithotripsy takes about an hour to complete. The patient will be given a mild dose of anaesthesia (local or general) so, that the patient does not feel any kind of pain.

Post the procedure, debris is eliminated from the kidneys or ureter, the tube leading from kidney to bladder, through urination.

How To Prepare For The Procedure?

Before the procedure, your doctor will suggest certain blood works to check the number of stones, their location and size. A non-contrast CT scan is used to confirm kidney stones as this test is highly sensitive and specific. Also, a normal abdominal X-ray known as kidney, ureters, bladders (KUB) is taken to find our calcium-containing stones.

The patient should inform the healthcare provider if he is taking any prescription medicines or over-counter medications oral supplements in advance. As certain medications like aspirin, ibuprofen and warfarin or blood thinners, can affect your body’s ability to clot blood. The doctor will usually ask the patient if he needs to stop taking these medications before the procedure.

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Some individuals may have lithotripsy done under local anaesthesia that numbs the region to avert pain. But most people have the procedure under general anaesthesia and in such cases, the doctor will tell the patient not to drink or eat anything for at least 8 hours before the procedure.

The patient should also plan to have someone drive them home after the procedure, as anaesthesia may make them drowsy and nauseous for several hours after lithotripsy.

Also Read: Kidney Function Tests: Know The Types, How It Is Done And What To Expect

What To Expect?

In the procedure room, the doctor will put an intravenous line in the person’s arm to inject an anaesthetic drug. The person has to lie on the table with a lithotripter placed to target the location of the stones. Then the doctor passes a water-filled cushion between the body and the lithotripter to induce shock waves properly and these waves are not painful. At times, the doctor may also place a stent in the ureter to aid the broken stones to pass easily.

Risk Factors

Most people may often experience bruising and soreness after shock wave lithotripsy. Fevers or chills may develop after ureteroscopy and shock wave lithotripsy, which may be a sign of infection. Talk to your doctor if you experience fever or chills. Heavy bleeding post lithotripsy is uncommon. If stone pieces get stuck, then there may be a blockage in the passage. In such cases, a doctor may do an additional procedure with a ureteroscope to remove the pieces.


Post the procedure, once the patient has awakened, the doctor will evaluate the patient for at least 1 to 2 hours to confirm they are comfortable and stable to go home. The doctor will give discharge advice, instructions, and medications. It may take a few weeks for the person to eliminate all the stone pieces and it is not uncommon for them to see blood in the urine for the first few days after the procedure.

Also, the person may have back and flank pain and pain medications are suggested to ease the severity of the pain. It’s vital to drink plenty of fluids for several weeks after the procedure, as it will aid the kidneys to get rid of any remaining stone pieces. It may take at least a week before a person feels comfortable getting back to work after lithotripsy.