Shockwave lithotripsy is a treatment for kidney stones. It is non-invasive and is used to effectively shatter larger stones into tiny pieces that can pass through the urinary tract into the bladder from where they are excreted with the urine.
Kidney stones are mineral crystals. They are formed when urine has a high concentration of minerals which crystalise to form stones. Kidney stones generally pass on their own with a little discomfort. They usually do not require treatment. When a stone becomes too big to pass through the urinary tract, it can lead to blockage. This may cause severe infection as urine gets backed up. You may also notice blood in the urine as the stone tries to move through the ureter.
The symptoms of kidney stone attack include severe pain in the side or lower back that spreads to your groin, pain during urination, pink, red, brown, cloudy urine that may smell bad, frequent urination, nausea, vomiting, fever and chills.
If you have these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately.
Lithotripsy is advised when the stone is in the kidney or upper part of the ureter, the tube that connects the kidney to the bladder. It is usually used to break kidney stones that are over 5mm in diameter, are not too hard, block passage of urine and cause severe pain.
If you are pregnant, take blood thinners, have stones that are larger than 1cm or have infection due to a stone stuck in the ureter, you cannot have lithotripsy. You will need other types of treatment.
What happens during lithotripsy
- You may be given a sedative or anaesthetic to keep you comfortable during the procedure.
- You will lie down on a water filled cushion or be immersed in a water tub.
- The exact location of the stone will be identified using a fluoroscope or ultrasound scan.
- A series of shockwaves will be focused on the stone to shatter it.
- Once the stone is broken into pieces that can pass, the treatment is over.
- If required, a stent may be placed to help pas the stone fragments.
The procedure will take about an hour depending on the size of the stone. Lithotripsy is generally an outpatient procedure. After you recover consciousness in the observation room, you may return home, but you will require someone to take you home.
Recovery after lithotripsy
- You may have some discomfort after the procedure. Take the painkiller prescribed by your doctor and do not take over the counter painkillers.
- If antibiotics are prescribed, take them exactly as advised.
- You can return to normal activities and diet, unless specifically advised not to.
- You will have to drink plenty of water or fluids to help pass the stone fragment.
- It is normal to notice some blood in your urine for a few days. This will gradually stop.
- You may be asked to strain your urine to collect the stone fragments for testing. When the type of stone is identified, it will be easier to decide the preventive steps to prevent stones in future.
- If a stent has been placed, it will be removed in a few weeks during your follow-up consultation.
- The fragments will pass out with your urine over a period of days or weeks. You will have some discomfort and pain as they pass, but painkillers will help manage the pain.
Advantages of Lithotripsy
- Non-invasive procedure
- Helps prevent major surgery
- Easy recovery and return to normal activities
- Relieves the severe discomfort caused by kidney stones
- Stones are completely removed over a period of time without leading to complications
Shockwave lithotripsy is a safe and effective procedure to get rid of painful kidney stones. It can get you back to normal pain free routine without disrupting your life.