What is "extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy?" (ESWL)

Expert Answers
ophelious eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I am no doctor, but I will tell you what I know about ESWL.  If you are asking because you or someone you know is going to have the procedure, I would recommend speaking with a professional on the subject.  Now that my little disclaimer is done, let's get to it!

Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is when sound waves are used to "blast" a kidney stone into little pieces so that it can easily travel out of the body through the urinary tract.  It works sort of like this:

  1. You lie on a water-filled cushion,
  2. The surgeon uses an ultrasound to locate the stone,
  3. High energy (or less painful low energy, depending on situation) sound waves are then "beamed" at the stone, breaking it up without hurting the rest of you,
  4. The stones eventually are passed the old fashioned way, when the person takes a whiz.  This usually takes a couple weeks for them all to work their way out, but most are gone after a few days.  It still hurts to "flush them out" in the john, but it hurts a lot less than having them stuck in your kidneys.

The procedure takes about an hour, and may or may not involve a sedative or pain-killer.  Sometimes a "stent" is used to, uh, "keep the pipes wide open" so that the stone has an easier time getting out (yes, it sounds pleasant, doesn't it?)

This procedure is mainly used on stones that are in the kidneys are are between 4mm and 2cm.  It works in about 9 out of 10 patients.

Hope this information helps!