Kidney Stone Treatment: Lithotripsy


Kidney (or ureteral) stones are formed when salts and minerals in the urine bind together. The cause may be as simple as a lack of water consumption or improper diet, or the stone formation may be inherited. Regardless of the cause, kidney stones can be very painful.

Lithotripsy is a procedure in which high-energy shock (sound) waves are directed at the kidney stones, breaking them into tiny pieces that can pass through the urinary tract and out of the body. The lithotripsy equipment includes ultrasound technology to more quickly and accurately pinpoint the type and location of kidney stones.

This procedure is typically recommended for people with a kidney stone that could pass into the ureter and cause blockage or pain. Lithotripsy may work best for stones in the kidney but can also be used for stones in the ureter. It is not recommended for women who are pregnant or patients with bleeding problems.

How It Works

A lithotripsy is an outpatient treatment that takes about an hour. General anesthesia is required.

The procedure takes place on a water-filled cushion atop the examination table, on which the patient lies while the surgeon uses x-rays or an ultrasound to locate the stones. Next, high-energy shock waves, called sound waves, are directed through the body and at the stones, breaking them into small pieces that can more easily flow through the urinary tract and out of the body.

In cases involving large stones, the surgeon may use a stent, a short flexible tube, to hold the ureter open. This will enable small stone pieces to pass without blocking the ureter.


After the Procedure

After a lithotripsy, stone fragments usually pass in the urine for a few days and cause mild pain. In cases involving larger stones, an additional treatment may be required.

This video from our Cincinnati office provides an overview of lithotripsy: