Lithotripsy is a procedure used to break kidney stones into small pieces.
That makes it easier to pass them in the urine.
Kidney stones are small, hard mineral deposits that build up in the urinary
tract. These stones are usually about the size of a pea. Most kidney stones
pass through the ureters, the tubes leading from the kidneys to the bladder,
into the bladder. But sometimes stones get stuck in the ureter or bladder and
cause a painful obstruction. Obstruction can lead to infection, and serious
kidney damage can result.
Who is a candidate for the procedure?
Anyone who has kidney stones that have led to obstruction, infection, or
serious bleeding may need lithotripsy.
How is the procedure performed?
One type of lithotripsy uses a machine called a lithotriptor, and the procedure
is called bath immersion lithotripsy. This procedure breaks up stones in the
kidney or upper ureters. It uses shock waves to pulverize the kidney stones,
breaking them into smaller fragments, which are then easier to pass in the
In preparation for the procedure, a person is
usually given a mild sedative. Occasionally, general anesthesia is used. The individual is lowered
into a large tub of water and submerged up to the shoulders. X-ray machines are
used to locate the stones so that the body can be positioned properly. Shock
waves are then sent through the water and the body. The body has the same
acoustic properties as the water, so it is not harmed by the shock waves. But
the renal stones are so brittle that they respond to the shock waves by
breaking apart. X-rays are taken throughout the procedure to check on the
status of the stones.
Usually 200 to 400 shock waves are needed to break down the stone. Sometimes as
many as 1,500 shock waves are given during treatment. People must wear
protective headphones during this procedure because the shock waves produce a
very loud sound. It usually takes about an hour, and no incision or
hospitalization is needed.
Stones that can't be broken down by the lithotriptor may be broken down
using other procedures. One of these procedures is percutaneous ultrasonic
lithotripsy. In this procedure, a small incision is made in the skin and a
special scope is passed through it into the kidney. A small instrument is used
to shoot ultrasound waves at the stone. The stone fragments are then removed
through the same scope.
Endoscopic lithotripsy is another variation of lithotripsy. A small instrument
is passed through the bladder and into the ureter. Attached is a unit that uses
ultrasound waves to break down the stones.
Electrohydraulic lithotripsy also uses an instrument that is passed through the
bladder. It sends out electrical charges to break up the stones in the urethra,
the tube leading from the bladder to the outside of the body.