Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (ESWL)
Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy (ESWL) is a common treatment for kidney stones. This procedure is performed with a machine called lithotripter which generates a series of shock waves that helps in breaking up the stones present inside the urinary tract or kidneys. The shock waves break the stones into smaller pieces, which can either pass through the urinary tract and will exit with urine out of the body or it can be easier to extract.
Extracorporeal means from outside the body. Lithotripsy means – “litho” means stones, and “tripsy” means crushed.
ESWL is a non-invasive procedure and can be carried out without a single incision. This procedure is beneficial for people with smaller stones that can be visualized easily with x-ray.
When is ESWL recommended?
Most kidney stones pass out in the urine on their own, but sometimes the stones can become big enough that it may get stuck inside the urinary tract. This can become painful as it blocks the drainage of urine from the kidney. Kidney stones are important to be treated as it can cause kidney damage and infection.
ESWL is generally used for treating small stones and not used for treating very large stones. Stones that are smaller than 2 cm in diameter inside the kidney or upper part of the ureter (urine tube) is usually treated with ESWL. It is recommended to perform the procedure if these stones are too large to pass on their own, it blocks the flow of urine, or is painful. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is a very common procedure and is usually performed in outpatient setting. This means the patient can go home the very same day after the procedure is performed. The procedure typically takes around one hour depending on the size and number of kidney stones.