What is Lithotripsy, and How Does it Work?

Lithotripsy is a medical treatment for kidney stones and stones in other organs such as the gallbladder and liver. Minerals, as well as other substances in your urine, crystallise in your kidneys, forming solid masses known as kidney stones.

The small, sharp-edged crystals or smoother, bulkier formations that resemble polished river rocks may make up these formations. They generally leave your body through urine. 

Occasionally, though, your body would be unable to pass larger stones through urination. As a result, kidney damage is a possibility. Patients with kidney stones may experience bleeding, acute pain, and urinary tract infections. Your doctor may suggest Lithotripsy if he suspects that the hard deposits are causing these symptoms.

Regarding kidney stones

The majority of kidney stones that form are tiny enough to pass on their own. However, in 20% of cases, stones are usually larger than 2 cm (about one inch) and require treatment. Most kidney stones are calcium-based, but there are other forms also like:

  • Calcium crystals: Calcium is found in bones and muscles and is a natural element of a healthy diet. It gets washed out generally with the rest of the urine. Excess calcium that isn’t utilised by the body, on the other hand, can join with other waste products to create a stone.
  • Struvite is a type of stone. After a urinary tract infection, struvite stones made up of magnesium, phosphate, and ammonia might form.
  • Stones are made up of uric acid.
  • Cystine stones are made up of cystine, which is one of the building blocks of muscles, nerves, and other bodily parts.

How does it work?

Sound waves are used in Lithotripsy to break big kidney stones into smaller bits. Extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy is the most prevalent type of Lithotripsy (ESWL).

The term “extracorporeal” refers to something that exists outside the body. It refers to the source of the shock waves in this scenario. The shock waves are generated by a specific machine called a lithotripter during ESWL. The waves enter your body and break the stones into smaller pieces. 

ESWL has been used since the early 1980s. For larger kidney stones, it swiftly superseded surgery as the treatment of choice. ESWL is a non-invasive treatment. Invasive operations are more dangerous to recover from than noninvasive ones.

Lithotripsy might take anything from 45 minutes to an hour to complete. You’ll get an anaesthetic (local, regional, or general) to keep you pain-free. Stone debris is eliminated from your kidneys or ureters by urine after the surgery.

What should you do to prepare for Lithotripsy?

Your doctor needs to know any prescription pharmaceuticals, over-the-counter medications, or supplements you take. Certain medications, such as aspirin (Buffering), ibuprofen (Advil), warfarin (Coumadin), and other blood thinners, can make it difficult for your blood to clot correctly.

Before the operation, your doctor might ask you to stop using these medications. However, unless your doctor says, don’t stop taking any medications.

Some people are given Lithotripsy under local anaesthetic that numbs the area and makes it painless. Most people, however, have the treatment done under a general anaesthetic, which puts them to sleep. If you’re having surgery that requires general anaesthesia, your doctor may advise you to fast for at least six hours before the procedure.

If you’re undergoing ESWL under general anaesthesia, arrange for someone to take you home afterwards. You should avoid driving until the effects of the general anaesthetic have gone off entirely after Lithotripsy.

Things to keep in mind about Lithotripsy. 

Lithotripsy is done as an outpatient procedure. It implies that you will arrive at the hospital or clinic on the day of the procedure and leave the same day. You change into a hospital gown and lie on an exam table before the procedure. It is where you will remain during the process. After that, you will be given sedatives and medication to battle the infection. High-energy shock waves will flow through your body until they reach the kidney stones during Lithotripsy. The waves will shatter the stone into little fragments that may be transported easily through your urinary system.

You will spend roughly two hours recovering in the hospital after the surgery before being sent home. In some situations, you may remain hospitalised for the night. After the surgery, plan to rest for a couple of days at home. It is a good idea to drink plenty of water following Lithotripsy for several weeks. It will help to remove any residual stone particles from your kidneys.

The dangers of Lithotripsy

Lithotripsy, like most procedures, carries some hazards. Internal bleeding is possible, requiring a blood transfusion. When a stone fragment restricts the urine flow, you risk infection and potential kidney damage. Your kidneys may get damaged after the treatment and may not function as well as before. High blood pressure or renal failure are two crucial problems that could occur.

The long-term prognosis for kidney stone sufferers

The number and size of the stones may affect the recovery, but Lithotripsy can typically remove them completely. You may require additional treatments in a few circumstances.

While Lithotripsy is effective for most individuals, there’s a chance the stones will recur.