Extracorporeal shockwave lithotripsy (ESWL) is the most frequently used surgical procedure for the treatment of kidney stones. ESWL uses shock waves that are created outside of the body to travel through the skin and body tissues until the waves hit the dense stones. The stones become sand-like and are easily passed through the urinary tract in the urine. This method is used for kidney or upper ureteral stones.
There are several types of ESWL devices. Most devices use either x-rays or ultrasound to help the surgeon pinpoint the stone during treatment. For most types of ESWL procedures, some type of anesthesia is needed. In some cases, ESWL may be done on an outpatient basis. Recovery time is short, and most people can resume normal activities in a few days. Stones that are too big or in a poor location are not treated well with ESWL. Sometimes a stent is placed in large stones to help the fragments pass.
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