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What is lithotripsy?

Lithotripsy [LITH-uh-trip-see] is a treatment that uses sound or shock waves to break up large kidney stones in the kidneys, bladder, or ureters [yoo-REE-ters]. (The ureters are the tubes that carry urine from the kidneys to the bladder.) Large stones are difficult and extremely painful to pass out of the body and can sometimes cause kidney damage. After lithotripsy, tiny pieces of the kidney stone pass out of the body in urine.

What are the risks and/or side effects?

Lithotripsy is generally a safe treatment, but can possibly cause:

  • Bleeding around the kidney
  • Pieces of the stone to block urine flow
  • Pieces of the stone to be left in the body
  • A kidney infection
  • Problems with normal kidney function
  • Sores in the stomach or intestines

What are the benefits?

Lithotripsy helps large kidney stones pass out of the body more easily without using surgery. Large kidney stones can be very painful, block the flow of urine, cause blood in the urine, or cause kidney damage, so the benefits of lithotripsy include:

  • Decreased pain
  • Normal flow of urine
  • Lower risk of kidney damage

How do I prepare?

Your child will prepare for the procedure by:

  • Putting on a hospital gown and lying on a soft table
  • Taking medicine for pain or to relax
  • Taking medicine to prevent infection

How is it done or administered?

Lithotripsy is a procedure performed in these steps:

  1. Getting ready. In most cases, your child will have an IV (intravenous) line placed in their wrist or arm to give them a sedative medicine that helps them relax. Then they’ll lie on an exam table with a shock wave generator machine.
  2. Finding the stone. Your child’s healthcare provider will use x-rays, or sometimes ultrasound, to find the stone. Your child will be positioned so the stone is directly in line with the shock wave machine.
  3. Breaking up the stone. When the stone is in position, the machine sends approximately 2,000 to 3,000 shock waves to the stone. The shock waves cause the stone to break into small pieces. Lithotripsy procedures generally take 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Patients can usually go home the same day, and the smaller stone fragments should pass on their own.

When will I know the results?

Most patients need several weeks or more to pass all pieces of stone out of the body. Most patients are free of kidney stones within 3 months. Occasionally, patients need additional treatments to remove all of the stones.

What are follow-up requirements and options?

Your child should see their healthcare provider for a follow-up appointment within a few weeks of the procedure. In the meantime, your child should:

  • Drink a lot of water. This helps pieces of stone pass more easily.
  • Learn how to prevent kidney stones from returning.
  • Take pain medicine or antibiotics as needed.
  • Strain their urine at home (if recommended by their healthcare provider). Pieces of stone can be sent to a medical lab to be tested. This can help your child’s healthcare provider know how the stones were caused and how to prevent them from returning.

What should I expect during recovery?

Your child’s recovery depends on the number of stones your child has, their size, and their location in the urinary system. Your child should be able to move about after the procedure and resume most regular activities within a day or two.

Your child will likely have some blood in their urine for a few days. Also, your child may feel some pain when small pieces of stone pass through the urine. It can take up to 3 months for all pieces to come out. During that time, drinking lots of water and taking pain medicine when needed will help reduce pain and discomfort.

Support and resources

KidsHealth: Kidney stones
MedlinePlus: Lithotripsy
National Kidney Foundation: Lithotripsy