What can I expect during ESWL treatment for kidney stones?

You can expect to receive some kind of anesthesia during ESWL (extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy) treatment for kidney stones. Local, regional or general anesthesia may be used. The procedure may be performed on an outpatient basis without the need for an overnight hospital stay, or you may need to be hospitalized for a day or two.

You will be asked to drink plenty of liquid and to strain your urine through a filter to capture the stone pieces for testing. You also may need to take antibiotics and painkillers. Some studies have reported that kidney stones may come out better if certain drugs (calcium antagonists or alpha-blockers) are used after ESWL.

There are two ways to remove stones using extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL). In one method, the person is placed in a tub of lukewarm water. Using x-rays or ultrasound to pinpoint the location of the stones, the urologist positions the body so that the stones are targeted precisely. In the second, more common method, the person lies on top of a soft cushion or membrane through which the shock waves pass. About 1,000 to 2,000 shock waves are needed to crush the stones. The complete treatment takes about 45 to 60 minutes.

Sometimes, doctors insert a tube via the bladder and thread it up to the kidney just prior to ESWL. These tubes (called stents) are used when the ureter is blocked, when there is a risk of infection and in people with intolerable pain or reduced kidney function.
ESWL stands for extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, a procedure that uses focused shock waves to break up kidney stones. This is what you can expect during the procedure:

Getting ready. In most cases, you'll have an IV placed in your wrist or arm to give you a sedative that helps you relax. Then you'll lie on an exam table with a shock wave generator.

Finding the stone. Your healthcare provider will use x-rays, or sometimes ultrasound, to find the stone. You will be positioned so the stone is directly in line with the shock wave generator.

Breaking up the stone. When the stone is in position, the generator sends approximately 2,000 to 3,000 shock waves to the stone. The shock waves cause the stone to break into small pieces. You can usually go home the same day, and the smaller stone fragments should pass on their own.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.