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How does lithotripsy work in the treatment of kidney stones?

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Quick Answer

Lithotripsy treats kidney stones by breaking up the stones into pieces that are small enough to pass out of the urinary system, explains MedlinePlus. Medical professionals often use extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy to treat kidney stones.

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Full Answer

During extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, the surgeon uses ultrasound or X-rays to locate the kidney stone in the urinary tract, states WebMD. The surgeon aims high-energy sound waves at the stone to break it up without injuring other parts of the body. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is usually done on an outpatient basis.

At the beginning of the procedure, the patient lies down on a cushion filled with water, notes MedlinePlus. Some patients are given general anesthesia, while others are given sedatives and local anesthetics. If the patient is awake, he might feel a tapping sensation when the sound waves hit the kidney stone and break it into small pieces. The procedure usually takes 45 minutes to one hour to complete.

Lithotripsy is indicated if a kidney stone is blocking the flow of urine from the body or causing bleeding, urinary tract infections or pain, notes MedlinePlus. In some cases, a patient is not a good candidate for lithotripsy. If a stone cannot be treated with lithotripsy, the surgeon might remove the stone with a minimally invasive surgery or an open procedure.

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