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What is involved in a lithotripsy procedure?

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In the more common of the two methods of lithotripsy, the patient may receive anesthesia to minimize discomfort before lying on a soft cushion through which the shock or sound waves pass, according to the National Kidney Foundation. It takes between 1,000 and 2,000 shock waves to crush kidney stones, and the procedure lasts between 45 and 60 minutes. Most patients are hospitalized for one to two days, but sometimes lithotripsy is performed as an outpatient procedure.

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In the less common method, the lithotripsy procedure is performed with the patient lying in a tub of lukewarm water while either X-rays or ultrasound are used to target the exact location of the kidney stone. In both methods, high energy sound waves break the stone into small pieces, usually smaller than grains of sand, and the broken stone passes through the body and is expelled with the urine. Both methods of lithotripsy are noninvasive, or extracorporeal, meaning the procedure takes place outside the body, states MedlinePlus.

Preparation for the procedure includes taking antibiotics to reduce any risk of infection and pain medication to reduce discomfort. At the attending physician's discretion, local or general anesthesia may be administered either to further reduce discomfort or to allow the patient to sleep during the procedure. If the patient is awake, he may experience a slight tapping sensation.

After the procedure, patients remain in the recovery room for two hours. Upon release, they receive a urine strainer to catch the broken parts of the stone as they are passed. The attending physician advises patients about any additional preparations needed for their procedure. It is important to follow these instructions.

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